[Plura-list] Snowden's young adult memoir; Favicons as undeletable tracking beacons; The ECB should forgive the debt it owes itself; Fleet Street calls out schtum Tories
doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Feb 9 13:09:08 EST 2021
Tonight, I'm helping Ed Snowden launch the young readers' version of his
spectacular memoir "Permanent Record." Join us for a livestream event
with Copperfield Books on Feb 9 at 19h Pacific.
* Snowden's young adult memoir: The Young Readers' edition of Permanent
* Favicons as undeletable tracking beacons: F-cache considered harmful.
* The ECB should forgive the debt it owes itself: Another round of
austerity will destroy the European project.
* Fleet Street calls out schtum Tories: When Paul Dacre and Katharine
* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016
* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading
🍇 Snowden's young adult memoir
"Permanent Record," Edward Snowden's 2019 memoir, was just what I'd
hoped for: a record of a personal journey, recounted in service to a
thoughtful, nuanced argument for civil disobedience and acts of conscience.
Whistleblowers are often complicated figures. Often, a whistleblower
acts out of mixed motivations - personal grievance, trauma, anger.
Sometimes they're incoherent and struggle to frame their deeds.
As Permanent Record makes clear, he acted out of principle, after
lengthy soul-searching, because he believed in his country and was both
elated at the liberatory power of tech and terrified by its power to
On top of that, Permanent Record is a beautifully written, gripping
technothriller, a procedural that explains the nuts and bolts of
encryption, operational security, both fascinating and revelatory, a
guide to what you should be worried about, and what you can do about it.
But Permanent Record keeps getting better! Today, Henry Holt released
"Permanent Record: Young Readers Edition," which is exactly what it
sounds like, a young adult version of Snowden's memoir, laying out his
life's story and his principles for teens.
Speaking as someone who grew up on the kind of Heinlein "juvie" that
read like a super cool older brother who put his arm around your
shoulder and said, "Look, kid, I'm going to tell you how the world works" --
Speaking as a writer who tried to capture that same spirit with my own
book Little Brother - a book whose working title was "Wikipedia Brown,"
and which I pitched as "Howard Zinn meets Have Spacesuit Will Travel" --
Speaking as the father of an adolescent --
This is an amazing book.
Snowden's sprightly prose, his deep technical knowledge, his superb
knack for explaining complex matters, his ability to articulate
principled action all come together in a book that is, if anything,
*better* than the adult version.
Books for teens cast a long shadow. They can alter the course of a
person's life. I was permanently affected by the books I read as an
adolescent. Snowden isn't just simplifying his message for kids here.
He's engaging with a generation of people who will never know a life
without the internet, but who might someday know a life free from
Tonight at 7PM Pacific I'm helping Snowden launch the book in a
livestreamed event in collaboration with Copperfield Books:
🍇 Favicons as undeletable tracking beacons
When you think of online tracking, chances are you think about
third-party cookies that follow you from site to site. Third-party
cookie handling has been a hot-button issue among the major browser
vendors of late, with Google announcing that Chrome would deprecate them.
But third-party cookies are just the most obvious way that your online
activity gets tracked. Far more insidious is "browser fingerprinting,"
in which the unique characteristics of your browser and computer are
linked to your identity and tracked.
Browser fingerprinting and other de-anonymizing attacks are a reminder
that the technical problems of anonymity are subtle and complex, which
is generally true of all privacy questions.
It's also a reminder that privacy problems can't be solved with code
alone: to be private, you also need legal recourse against companies
that cheat and spy on you.
Finally, it's a reminder that we need independent security researchers,
who can warn us about novel ways of attacking our digital privacy.
Researchers like Jonas Strehle, who just published a fascinating
proof-of-concept demonstrating how favicons (the tiny icons in your
browser tabs) represent a serious privacy vulnerability.
Strehle calls this tracking-by-favicon "supercookies," and his demo
shows that these trackers defeat incognito mode, VPNs, and ad-blockers.
His work builds on an academic U Illinois Chicago paper from Network and
Distributed Systems Security, published in 2020: "Tales of FAVICONS and
Caches:Persistent Tracking in Modern Browsers"
Favicons are stored locally in a database called the F-cache; if a user
requests a favicon from a site, the site can infer that the user has
never visited the site before (or that the gap since their last visit
was so long that the cache expired).
"By combining the state of delivered and not delivered favicons for
specific URL paths for a browser, a unique pattern (identification
number) can be assigned to the client. When the website is reloaded, the
web server can reconstruct the identification number with the network
requests sent by the client for the missing favicons and thus identify
This confirms the original paper's theoretical prediction that favicon
attacks "allow a website to reconstruct a 32-bit tracking identifier in
🍇 The ECB should forgive the debt it owes itself
For people and businesses, money is scarce; for currency-issuing
governments, it's not. The story that governments "spend our taxes" is
obviously wrong: since governments are the *source* of money, it can't
be right that governments have to get money from us before they spend.
Governments spend first, spending money into existence. Then they tax,
which annihilates some of that money. If governments run "balanced
budgets" (where they tax as much as they spend), they leave no money
left over for us to use.
And if they run a surplus (taxing more than they spend), then they
reduce the supply of money that's available for the private sector to
spend. The government's deficit is the public's credit, and vice-versa.
Government spending is constrained...but not by money. It's constrained
by *resources*. If the government creates money to buy more things than
are for sale - or things that the private sector's also trying to buy -
prices go up (AKA inflation).
There's a lot of important stuff for sale in any given government's
currency that no one else is trying to buy, though: for example, the
labor of unemployed people. Governments can safely create money to buy
that labor at a socially inclusive wage with good benefits.
Sometimes, governments need to buy things the private sector also wants.
During WWII, states needed raw material, processing facilities, and
labor for the war.
To prevent inflation, they did two things: first, they rationed,
limiting what the private sector could buy.
Second, they created "war bonds," which were basically sinkholes for
money. By urging workers to sequester the money they earned in war
production, governments were able to take the money out of circulation
during the period when there was nothing to buy with it.
Governments that recognize this undeniable truth - money is spent into
existence, taxed out of existence - are able to weather crises, for
example, by spending whatever it takes to get through a pandemic, or to
recover from a crash.
Governments that allow themselves to be constrained by the fiction of
"spending tax money" are hobbled during crises - locked into austerity
at the moment when the economy contracts, drawing down the pool of
spendable money when spending is desperately needed.
And even if a government is free from the ideological straitjacket of
scarce money, it can still be hampered by external factors. For example,
if a government owes debts in a currency it doesn't issue, then it can't
spend its way out of debt.
Venezuela and Zimbabwe could create VEBs and ZWDs all day and it
wouldn't give them the dollars they needed to service their debts - and
since they'd oriented their economies towards import rather than
self-reliance, there wasn't much they could buy in VEBs and ZWDs either.
It's not just debt: governments can cede their monetary sovereignty by
pegging their currency to some other currency (like the USD), or by
allowing a third party to issue their currency (like the eurozone nations).
The eurozone is a remarkable phenomenon: a union of 10 affluent
countries that have abandoned control of their money and thus their
ability to fund things like a job guarantee, putting themselves at the
mercy of the European Central Bank during economic crises.
During the 2008 crisis, the ECB put the screws to the eurozone,
punishing austerity and a wildly uneven recovery with riches for the
financial sector (who were able to charge interest on loans that
replaced state spending) and destruction for the real economy and the 99%.
It's grimly ironic. The ECB - which is largely controlled by German
politicians - is repeating the mistakes of the German central bank in
the runup to WWII. You've probably heard the stories of Weimar
hyperinflation, but that's not what triggered the German depression.
Rather, it was Brüning's 1930 policy of *deflation* - removing money
from the economy through austerity - that triggered and then worsened
the economic crisis in Germany, creating the conditions for societal
collapse, fascism, and imperialist aggression.
Well, there's another economic crisis in the offing - the pandemic - and
yet another, far worse one on the horizon - the climate emergency. And
even with the constraints the ECB and eurozone nations have imposed on
themselves, there is still room to get it right this time.
An all-star coalition of European academics and economists from every
eurozone nation have signed onto a letter to the ECB, calling on it to
forgive the debt the eurozone nations owe to it.
Like many central banks, the ECB chooses to issue debt whenever it
creates new money (it doesn't have to do this, but it does). Much of
that debt is bought up by investors seeking safe returns (for the same
reason US pension plans buy T-bills and UK ones buy gilts).
But about 25% of that debt is held by the ECB itself - it's an
accounting entry, in other words, not an actual debt. The ECB created
2.5 trillion euros, then decided that it owed 2.5 trillion euros to
itself, for accounting purposes.
The ECB could simply wipe those debts off its books - or, if it wants to
preserve the accounting convention, it could convert it into a perpetual
debt at 0% interest.
Doing so would create the fiscal space for the entire EU-wide covid
stimulus, with money left over to start on a Green European Deal.
The German interwar experience tells us what happens when we pursue
austerity rather than writing off debt.
But it also tells us what happens when we get it right: in 1953, the
London Conference wiped out two-thirds of Germany's public debt, paving
the way for Germany reconstruction and rise.
Now, German politicians have the power to repeat the mistakes of 1930,
or the good policies of 1953. And this time, the stakes aren't merely a
world war - they're the world itself.
🍇 Fleet Street calls out schtum Tories
If you think hyperpartisan media is unique to the internet age and yearn
for the balance and sobriety of the golden age of newspapers, you have
an unduly rosy picture of both the past *and* the present, as the
British press ably demonstrates.
Maybe you've noticed the odd North American paper with titles that
reveal their partisan history, like the Whig Standard and the Press
Democrat, or you've heard of old-timey papers like the National
Republican. You might think of the WSJ as Republican and the NYT as Dem.
But in the UK, there's never really been the pretense of independence
from political parties. The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun and Times are
Tory; the Guardian, Observer and Mirror are Labour. The Independent is
called that because it's notionally independent.
The papers are partisan and so are their editors and writers, who
generally hate one another and pick at each other in columns like
Hamilton and Burr going at it in the op-ed section.
So when the British papers all co-sign a statement, it's worth taking
A new petition from Opendemocracy calls on the Tory government to end
its stonewalling on freedom of information requests, and it's been
signed by more than a dozen current and former newspaper editors.
As Mary Fitzgerald and Peter Geoghegan write, the government's "Clearing
House" unit has been repeatedly caught lying about how it handles FOI
requests, creating blacklists to deny access to journalists.
Under the Tories, FOI response rates have plunged to their lowest level
in 40 years, with the Clearing House repeatedly implicated in
conspiracies to bury information of enormous public import, such as
documents relating to the infected blood scandal:
Last month, leaks revealed that Clearing House was advising local
councils to illegally withhold information on which buildings were
sheathed in the lethal "Grenfell cladding" that resulted in the deaths
of at least 72 people.
The petition has been signed by peers and MPs, "human rights lawyers,
journalists, press freedom advocates and global non-governmental
organisations including Index on Censorship, RSF, Greenpeace, Article
19, PEN and Transparency International."
The Tory government has presided over a series of lethal shambles that
nevertheless piled enormous amounts of public funding into cronies'
pockets for government services in no-bid and secret contracts,
transforming the UK into a chumocracy.
The gutting of FOI service was overseen by archvillain Michael Gove.
He's not hiding how the government works from its people because he
thinks they'll love what he's doing and doesn't want to spoil the surprise.
🍇 This day in history
#15yrsago Canadian Red Cross wastes its money harassing video game
#15yrsago Our music preferences are driven by the crowd as much as taste
#15yrsago Disneyland model recreates Yippie invasion of 1970
#10yrsago BBC to delete 172 unarchived sites, geek saves them for $3.99
#5yrsago A digital, 3D printed sundial whose precise holes cast a shadow
displaying the current time
#5yrsago Eviction epidemic: the racialized, weaponized homes of
America’s cities https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/forced-out
#5yrsago Copyright trolls who claimed to own “Happy Birthday” will pay
$14M to their “customers”
#5yrsago Australia, the driest country on Earth, eliminates basic
climate science research
#5yrsago Vtech, having leaked 6.3m kids’ data, has a new EULA
disclaiming responsibility for the next leak
#5yrsago Jughead is asexual https://www.themarysue.com/jughead-asexuality/
Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).
* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (108255 total).
* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Friday's progress: 289 words (4029 total).
Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.
Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 30)
* Talking Attack Surface with the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered
Artificial Intelligence, Feb 9,
* Launch for the young adult edition of Edward Snowden's memoir
PERMANENT RECORD, Feb 9,
* Boskone, 58, Feb 12-15, https://boskone.org/
* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,
* Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,
* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,
* Chop Shop Economics
* Monocle Reads
* Hedging Bets on the Future (Motherboard Cyber):
* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies
* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies
* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
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basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.
🍇 How to get Pluralistic:
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"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
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