Archive for Consumer-related

Net governance is a game – play it to win

by David Solomonoff

While we take the Internet for granted as an essential part of everyday life, decisions are being made behind the scenes that affect its future and the lives of everyone who relies on it. Net users are like players in a game where the rules are unknown and can change at any time.  Decisions are made by technologists, government regulators and legislators, nonprofits and civil society groups — with a great deal of influence by special interests — far from public view or understanding.

The recent announcement by Department of Commerce that the United States would relinquish part of its controlling role in managing the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), although long in the offing, was accelerated by fears of US control of the Net in the wake of recent NSA spying scandals.

The DNS essentially controls real estate in cyberspace by translating a human-understandable domain name like “google.com” to an Internet Protocol (IP) address that computers understand.

In October 2013 leaders of organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet. In the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation they expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance. They also called for accelerating the globalization of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who manage the DNS, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing.

On March 14, 2014 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. NTIA asked ICANN, as the IANA  functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal for the transition. In addition, NTIA explicitly stated that it would not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.

That fear of repressive government control of the Net also inspired three bills, H.R. 4342  (ih) – Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2014, H.R. 4367  (ih) – Internet Stewardship Act of 2014 and H.R. 4398  (ih) – Global Internet Freedom Act of 2014 to be introduced to the US Congress to prevent or delay the transition.

Supporters of the transition say critics betray their lack of understanding of Net governance with the proposed legislation. Several human rights and civil liberties groups supporting the transition wrote a letter arguing that the move would actually be preemptive and would sustain the current multi-stakeholder model.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is ICANN itself which has been criticized for lacking transparency and accountability. Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project writes:

When the U.S. Commerce Department announced that it would end its control of the domain name system root, it called upon ICANN to “convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.” Many people worried about ICANN’s ability to run a fair process. As an organization with a huge stake in the outcome, there were fears that it might try to bias the proceedings. ICANN has a very strong interest in getting rid of external oversight and other dependencies on other organizations.

It was in this environment that the Brazilian President  Dilma Rousseff  (who herself was a victim of NSA spying) organized the NETmundial Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance which was co-sponsored by ICANN. Concurrently with the conference, she signed the Marco Civil da Internet, a bill that sets out new guidelines for freedom of expression, net neutrality and data privacy.

Wired UK compared NETmundial to a game:

To set the scene for a Brazilian meeting over internationalising the internet, we compare the little-known world of internet governance with the greatest spectacle in football

As Brazil gears up to host the 2014 World Cup, another world game is gathering pundits and crowds. Far from the flashy arena, this other contest is over Internet governance. It’s about how, and by whom, the paradigmatically ‘unowned’ internet is managed.

Quietly waged by smooth corporate strategists, diplomats, and tech-geeks, the fight over net governance goes to the heart of global politics and economics. The bets, most curiously, run close to those in football. Brazil and Germany are leading the charge, with several other European and South American teams as potential challengers. The big question is whether they can nudge perennial football underdog and undisputed internet champion, the United States, from the top spot.

The analogy between Internet policy and games is not new or inaccurate – in 2007 Google hired game theorists to assist in their strategy in an FCC auction for wireless spectrum.

Like any other game with winners and losers, there was disappointment in the outcome of NETmundial.

Sara Myers of Global Voices, an Internet freedom group wrote:

Provisions addressing net neutrality and the principle of proportionality were not included in the final version, and a section on intermediary liability lacked safeguards to protect due process and the rights to free expression and privacy.

But the greater problem for Internet governance and Internet freedom is how few Net users even know that the Internet is governed or managed at all. While recent surveys in the US show an alarming decline in understanding of how the US government works, the number of people who even know what ICANN is is probably far smaller.

Recently the Governance Lab at New York University developed a series of proposals to make ICANN more “effective, legitimate and evolving”. The most interesting was Enhance Learning by Encouraging Games:

ICANN must take seriously its commitment to engage its global stakeholder base in decision-making, especially those who are ultimately impacted by those decisions …. ICANN could make the complexities of Internet governance and ICANN’s work more open, accessible and interesting to people with games and activities aimed at the next generation … The use of game mechanics in decision-making contexts can bolster ease and equitability of participation (enhancing legitimacy); produce incentive structures to target expertise (enhancing efficiency); and mitigate complexity through simple rules (enhancing adaptability and the ability to evolve).

While the Gov Lab has not yet begun development of such games, another group has. Media artist Josephine Dorado and game developer Jeremy Pesner, working with the Internet Society (disclaimer: as President of New York Chapter of Internet Society I am also involved in development) are modifying reACTor, their online game to promote social activism, to specifically address issues involving Internet governance and Internet freedom.

Several years ago the Internet Society explored several alternate scenarios for the evolution of the Internet in a series of animated videos. These videos are a model for the type of scenarios the game will explore. Combined with feeds from news media, activist organizations and the Internet Society’s extensive documentation on Internet governance and policy, the game will award points and prizes to players who most effectively work for an open Internet.

To integrate the game with real-world action, POPVOX, a non-partisan platform which facilitates constituents contacting US legislators and regulators, will be used. Net governance organizations like ICANN could also be integrated.

reACTor re-envisions news engagement, online activism and mobile gaming. It connects news with augmented activism: calls to action inspired by news and sustained by gameplay.

Online activist movements have previously been organized by different actors, around different issues and on different platforms. reACTor is the unified platform that activist organizations as well as game players can easily add new actions to.

reACTor brings news and activism into the 21st century by closing the gap between becoming informed and becoming involved.

Let the game begin!

 

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Cat Runs For Office In Virginia

by David Solomonoff

Former Virginia Govs. George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) now face a feline foe. Hank’s a former street cat and political independent who advocates a job creation platform and “milk in every bowl.” According to his Twitter account, Hank is also passionate about the creation of a Privacy Bill of Rights and the protection of consumer data.

Such campaigns have even been successful in the past — Bosco Ramos, a black Labrador-Rottweiler mix, served as mayor of Sunol, Calif., from 1981-1990.

via HuffPo

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Mortgage Settlement Madness!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

There have to be clowns. Without them, we might cry a river during election years. Pinching your nose while voting brings tears to the eyes of many. So send in the clowns. Or at least– a really sharp comedy.

Some clarification as to what counts as comic. The Mitt/Newt/Rick Show and MSM’s Fist Pump 4 Obama are stale. They keep working the same lines and pratfalls. Not all old shows are dullsville. The Government Real Estate Game is hoary as hell but keeps reinventing itself. The latest twist:

Mortgage Settlement Madness!

Honk-a-dollar. As in, the 25 billion of ’em coughed up by five mega lenders via the national mortgage servicer settlement. Also called the national foreclosure settlement. The lenders who hit homeowners with funky foreclosures and hence had to cough are Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally Financial Inc. Ally is the loan artist formerly known as GMAC. Why the name change? Cause “everybody needs an Ally”*.

Fun factoids about GMAC aka Ally: In 2008, the US Treasury invested $5 billion in GMAC (a sub of General Motors) from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). In 2009, they added 7.5 billion, giving the government a majority stake in GMAC. In 2010, GMAC “rebranded” itself as Ally Financial Inc. By January, 2012, TARP had 12 billion invested in GMAC/Ally.

Is Ally’s slice of the mortgage settlement being served by TARP?

If so, please notify Peter he’s being robbed to pay Paul.

The Obama administration in the form of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pushed the mortgage servicer settlement; 49 state attorney generals added their heft. A few balked at first. Not enough money for my state said some. Others were bugged that the settlement scotched legal actions supposedly in the hopper. (The ultimate deal doesn’t nix actions re other bads the AGs may have discovered when investigating foreclosure abuses. Future prosecutions could still take place in the future.) New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was the scariest holdout. He was in the belly of the Wall Street beast. He was gonna get them bastids!

Compassion for struggling homeowners– and quid pro quo– eventually won over the AGs. The settlement will help homeowners avoid foreclosure via various programs (insert pratfall sound effect here) and in some cases, mortgage modifications. About 750,000 victims of foreclosure fouls will receive $2000 each. No mule though.

Not all homeowners will qualify for assistance. Selections must be made. Homeowners best get busy kissing butt on their local politicized housing scene; non profit housing helpers will be guiding the mortgage settlement dispensation.

By the time the settlement makes it to local levels, there will be less to dispense. Hands at higher levels are already helping themselves.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) immediately skimmed $1 billion from the payout kicked in by Bank of America (BofA). Apparently BofA boffed the FHA with a boatload of bad loans. Poor FHA. Their taxpayer-backed loan portfolio is always giving them trouble. As for BofA, they must have really been macking around. Their part of the settlement is the heftiest.

State pols are also swarming the mortgage settlement, with governors and state reps claiming that since the busted housing bubble busted their budgets they deserve a piece of the pie.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (Democrat) wants to use almost all of his state’s $41 million cut as a budget plug. The state legislature leaders (Republican) say Yay Jay. In Pennsylvania, Dems are pushing the Republican attorney general to channel settlement funds into poverty programs. Maryland’s attorney general will give 10% of the state’s settlement cut to Governor Martin O’Malley (Democrat) and state reps “to spend as they choose”**.

Just when you think Mortgage Settlement Madness! couldn’t get any funnier, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (Republican) flaps onto the stage with a plan to use $26 million of the foreclosure rescue fund to plug his budget hole. This from the Friend-Of-All-Homeowners.

It also seems funny (as in “weird”) that state attorney generals will be dispensing money to public officials from a national settlement made by major financial institutions under threat of legal action by the very same attorney generals. The AGs’ leeway to control the cash was a crucial part of the mortgage settlement deal. Overall, the settlement is an attorney general power enhancer.

An oft asked question is why the financial crash of 2008 and the massive taxpayer bailouts that ensued didn’t lead to any prosecutions of major players. One of the answers– and there are many, none of which go down easy– may be that our state attorney generals increasingly treat financial crime in high places as a power tool and revenue source rather than something to be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, out in the lesser criminal fields, the mortgage servicer settlement is sparking new grifts. According to a press release*** by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, scammers in that state are already working the “landmark settlement”. (North Carolina’s banking commissioner incidentally, will be overseeing the mortgage servicer settlement.) Calling homeowners and promising I can get you a piece of the settlement but first I’ll need your bank account number…

The Government Real Estate Game has done it again. Mortgage Settlement Madness! promises to be a comedy keeper.

*ally/Ally Financial, FAQs, Why is GMAC rebranding to Ally Financial, Inc.? 2010

**Some money from mortgage settlement to be diverted, David A. Lib, Associated Press, 02/22/12

***Watch out for sham mortgage settlement calls, AG warns, North Carolina Department of Justice, 02/22/12

 

 

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Turkey Day at Target: Jim Johnson Carves, Consumers Gobble and Run

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

This year’s hottest Thanksgiving event is being held in Minneapolis at the headquarters of Target Corp. The mega retailer, whose cheap designer duds keep Joe and Jane Doakes looking stylish even during a depression, will be celebrating T-Day in a novel way. Target’s chief execs and board of directors are ditching family gatherings in favor of chowing down together. According to a fly on the wall, the table in the corporate board room has already been set with plastic china. And a bank of big screen TVs has been mounted above the table. More about that in a minute.

Come dinnertime, board member James A. Johnson will be doing the carving. He’s definitely the man for the job. As chief executive of government-sponsored mortgage maven Fannie Mae between 1991 and ’98, Jim Johnson was known for his ability to eviscerate regulators. When congressional number crunchers fretted about taxpayer risk and the danger of consumers carrying too much housing debt, Jim and his fellow bubble chefs at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac got busy with their long knives. Doing a Benihana on anyone insufficiently convinced re the social benefits of expanded home ownership programs. If profits for the chefs expanded along with the programs, so what? Doing well by doing good was all the rage in that gilded age.

That was then, this is Turkey Day 2011. Great news for consumers carrying too much debt! This year, Target’s Black Friday sales begin on Thursday. Doors open at midnight. Lines will be long. As soon as you’ve choked down the pumpkin pie, grab your credit cards and run. (Tip: time can be gained by skipping grace at the beginning of the meal.)  Leave the dishes in the sink. Heck– don’t even bother to clear the table. Let the dog do the cleanup.

About those TVs in Target’s boardroom– an unnamed source (the fly on the wall wishes to remain anonymous) says the company’s chief execs and board members want to watch– and wager on– consumers racing up and down Target aisles all over the country. Can the hefty gal in the pajama jeans beat the old but spry bald guy to the last marked-down tech toy du jour? Which mom will emerge victorious from the doll scrim in aisle 666? And can Target’s scooters for the disabled roll faster than other shoppers can run?

If not, there will be blood…

After the games are over, T-Day at Target headquarters will conclude on a light note, with execs and board members mugging it up (Jim Johnson allegedly does a hilarious parody of Bob Cratchit) as they read aloud from a petition signed by 190, 000 employees and rogue consumers, requesting that Target move its opening hour back to a leisurely 5 a.m on Black Friday morning.

 

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