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Tech secrets: 21 things 'they' don't want you to know

Dan Tynan | April 1, 2010
Eavesdropping Webcams, spying ISPs, toxic PCs, and more: dangers the industry is hiding, and what you can do about them

Yes, the truth is out there. But they don't want you to know about it.

Who's "they"? It could be Google or product manufacturers, your boss or your wireless carrier, Hollywood or Uncle Sam.

What don't they want you to know? That your cell phone, your Webcam, and your employer may be spying on you. That you're probably paying too much for printer ink, and that your wicked-cool subsidized handset will cost you way more over time than an unsubsidized one. That your PC may be coated with toxic flame retardants. And that's just for starters.

Don't despair. For every dirty little secret revealed herein, we describe a fix or a way to work around it (if any exists). You don't have to be a victim, if you know what to do.

Just remember: You've been warned.

Your ISP Is a Copyright Cop

The RIAA and the MPAA may have a new ally. The next people who bust you for illegally swapping music and movies could be the folks you pay for Internet access.

The recording and film industries are seeking to manipulate upcoming net neutrality legislation to allow ISPs to scan the bits passing through their networks and to block any that may violate copyrights--similar to Comcast's notorious attempts to throttle BitTorrent connections in 2007. The Federal Communications Commission's recommended rule changes already contain an exception for "reasonable network management," which could include sniffing for copyrighted content, says Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Meanwhile, according to leaked reports, the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) now being negotiated in private sessions contains provisions requiring ISPs to police their own networks for copyright scofflaws. Critics of the proposed treaty fear that copyright holders will insert a "three-strikes" policy, under which users could have their Internet access revoked if they're caught exchanging copyrighted content more than twice.

"It's dangerous giving so much power to copyright claims," says Wendy Seltzer, project leader for the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "Imagine someone telling you, 'If you violate our copyrights, we can terminate your Net connection, not just your blog.'"

With such a powerful new partner playing the role of both investigator and enforcer, might copyright holders be emboldened to pursue more consumers suspected of violating copyrights? And what protections will consumers have against false claims of infringement?

The Fix: Contact your congressional representatives and tell them that you oppose net neutrality loopholes for content filtering. Support organizations such as Chilling Effects, the EFF, and Public Knowledge, which fight laws that turn ISPs into Hollywood's hired guns.

Cell Phones Don't Crash Airplanes

 

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