Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blackout day: Web’s ‘cyber tantrum’ already getting result - courtesy of GMSV

Fighting the good fight...
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Subject: Good Morning Silicon Valley: SOPA protest day, plus Yahoo post-Yang

Good Morning Silicon Valley

Blackout day: Web's 'cyber tantrum' already getting results

By Levi Sumagaysay

The Google search page has a blacked-out logo. Wikipedia's English-language website has gone dark. Over at craigslist, the home page message urges people to call their legislators and includes the following: "Corporate paymasters, keep those clammy hands off the Internet!" What's all the fuss about?

We've discussed SOPA and PIPA frequently on GMSV — including yesterday — but those who might need a refresher can check out the Mercury News Q&A on the anti-piracy legislation that's drawing protests by quite a few U.S. websites today.

Here's what the protesters are saying: The Stop Online Piracy Act and a similar Senate measure, the Protect IP Act, overreach. The legislation, which aims to crack down on copyright infringement, could lead to censorship, security issues and harm technological innovation.

"There are better ways to address piracy than to ask U.S. companies to censor the Internet. The foreign rogue sites are in it for the money, and we believe the best way to shut them down is to cut off their sources of funding," writes David Drummond, chief legal officer for Google, on the company blog. Other sites such as WordPress, Wired, Boing Boing and more are either dark or self-censoring their headlines. Wired explains its decision to participate in the protests, saying the legislation "threatens to usher in a chilling internet censorship regime here in the U.S. comparable in some ways to China's 'Great Firewall'."

The tech industry's opposition seems to be making a difference. The bills are facing obstacles and will have to be reworked, especially in the wake of the White House voicing its opposition over the weekend to some of the legislation's most sweeping aspects. SOPA author Sen. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, reportedly said Friday he would back away from the provision in the bill that would have required domain-name blocking.

The Hill's Hillicon Valley blog reports today that at least one lawmaker has changed his mind and dropped his support of PIPA, which he had co-sponsored. He has heard "legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

"The Web taking a stand against one of the most powerful lobbyers and seeming to get somewhere is definitely a first," Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, told the New York Times.

But Wired and others say the protests — which are also going offline, by the way — remain necessary because "it is almost certain their backers are already planning the next round, in a process that will continue in one form or another ad infinitum." Those backers are the music and entertainment industries, which claim that piracy are costing companies in the industry billions of dollars a year and threatening jobs. The true costs of piracy are tough to pin down, though, the Washington Post pointed out recently. And opponents of the bills say the costs to them would also be great. For example, among the provisions is a requirement to delete links to sites that infringe on copyrights — something that is sure to be easier said than done.

A Wall Street Journal editorial is calling today's protest a "cyber tantrum," and kills two birds with one stone by likening it to other recent expressions of discontent: "The offline analogue is Occupy Wall Street." The WSJ, which is owned by News Corp., echoes the sentiments of the legislation's authors, who say the bills' only aim is to stop online piracy and protect intellectual property. (See Quoted: SOPA author digs in.) Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. CEO, also slammed the Obama administration and Google via Twitter over the weekend for their position on SOPA and PIPA.


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"I've known plenty of couples who have shared passwords, and not a single one has not regretted it. It's the kind of symbolism that always goes awry."

Sam Biddle of Gizmodo, in an interview with the New York Times, which wrote about couples who are are young, in love and sharing passwords to their email and social-networking accounts. Said one teen quoted in the article: "I have nothing to hide from him, and he has nothing to hide from me." But as the New York Times explored in a 2010 article, when couples' digital lives are too intertwined, breaking up becomes even harder to do.

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Yahoo post-Yang: What's next? A day after Yahoo announced that co-founder Jerry Yang has left the building — no more chief Yahoo title, and he has resigned from his seat on the board — shares of the Sunnyvale company continue to rise. After climbing sharply in after-hours yesterday, they are now up nearly 3 percent to about $15.90 as of this post.

Investors must be reading about how Yang was widely seen as an obstacle in selling off Yahoo's valuable Asian assets, Chinese Internet portal Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. And perhaps many of them haven't forgiven and forgotten that Yang was CEO when the company rejected Microsoft's hostile bid in 2008 — for $33 a share, about twice as much today's share price. But also, when Yahoo fired CEO Carol Bartz last year for failing to turn the company around quickly enough, there was accompanying grumbling about the board. Board member Yang, for better or worse, has been with the company in some capacity since he co-founded it in 1994. Some saw him as a contributor to Yahoo's inability to keep up with the growth of the newer, hipper Internet companies such as Facebook and Google.

Amid all the coverage about Yang's departure, two key points: First, some say Yang may be getting a bum rap, his legacy tarnished by Yahoo's recent struggles.

Writes Charles Cooper of CBS News: "If Yang's legacy includes blowing the Microsoft deal, then let's also include his myriad contributions in laboring to build one of the biggest Internet properties in the world. For whatever warts you want to pick at, Yahoo remains a company that weathered the dot-com bust, the post-9/11 slump, and the Great Recession." My colleague Chris O'Brien blogs: "Yang deservedly remains a Silicon Valley icon. He was there at the start of the Internet era, along with co-founder David Filo, building one of the first great Web businesses. It is a company that generated millions of dollars in wealth for founders and employees, created thousands of jobs, and helped pioneer the idea that the Web could be a place where businesses could be built." Yang's mistake, say O'Brien and the Mercury News' Mike Cassidy, was hanging on too long.

Second, the big question now is what the company can do to start anew as it battles Facebook and Google for ad revenue, and as it tries to appease long-frustrated investors. Cooper of CBS News and others are right to point out that Yahoo remains a huge force. Its properties continue to draw in hundreds of millions of viewers — who probably couldn't care less that Yahoo has lost its mojo in the tech world — and it remains one of the biggest and still profitable companies in Silicon Valley. But analyst Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group recently told O'Brien: "Yahoo is a very vaguely defined company strategically. It has a million or zero identities. It's everything and nothing." Many believe that that lack of focus, more than anything or anyone, has been what has held the company back. On GMSV, we've talked plenty about Yahoo's identity crisis as it has struggled with the question of whether it's a technology company or a media company. With Yang gone, and with more board members reportedly on their way out, maybe a new regime can help reinvent Yahoo.

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Off topic: Faking it on Twitter, if seceding had succeeded, occupations of the 1 percent, office colds, remaking book covers: The alter egos of Henry Kissinger, Queen Elizabeth II and others make Foreign Policy's list of fake and entertaining Twitter accounts. U.S. secession movements mapped and compared against the rest of the country. (via Neatorama) The New York Times takes a look at what the 1 percent does for a living. (with infographic) Office colds: a flowchart, diagram of the "office hero" and more. And alternative book covers and movie posters.

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