Did the “Bitcoin CEO” Just Commit Suicide? Not So Fast.
The news leapt out at me from my Twitter stream: “Bitcoin CEO Found Dead of Possible Suicide in Singapore.”
The headline is all too easy to believe, and to assimilate into the story of bitcoin as an experiment gone tragically awry. Last week, the implosion of leading bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox left investors in the crypto-currency feeling robbed, disillusioned, and angry. Now, it seemed, one of the people responsible was falling on his or her sword.
Not so fast, please. This story is not nearly as clear-cut as the media are making it seem.
First of all, bitcoin doesn’t have a CEO. It’s a crypto-currency, not a company. The young woman in question was actually the head of the Singapore-based startup First Meta. According to its website, First Meta was founded in 2007, and its claim to fame was creating the first virtual credit card for the then-popular online game Second Life. Today it functions as one of many online marketplaces for bitcoin and a slew of other virtual currencies.
It is true that the young woman, 28-year-old Autumn Radtke, is dead. But officials are still investigating the cause of death. As far as I can tell, the “suicide” headlines on sites such as the New York Post, the Daily Mail, and Fox News are based on anonymously sourced reports in “local media.” The only such report I’ve been able to track down so far was on the blog Tech in Asia on Feb. 27, which said “sources have suggested that [Radtke] committed suicide.” A note at the top of that blog post indicates that it has been updated to emphasize that “investigations are ongoing.”
It’s possible Radtke committed suicide, but it seems rash—and unfair to her and her family and friends—for major news outlets to jump to that conclusion on the basis of anonymous rumors. And even if she did commit suicide, how do we know it had anything to do with bitcoin’s troubles? We don’t. And for the record, suicide is rarely the result of any single cause.
What we do know is that an apparently bright and much-loved young woman in the Singapore startup community is dead, and police are investigating. But that doesn’t make for sensational tweets or compelling headlines in national news outlets or online magazines like BuzzFeed. To get people to click on the story, you need to imply that Radtke killed herself because of the Bitcoin crash.
How do I know that? Because the Wall Street Journal ran a blog post a week ago that stuck to the facts—and almost no one noticed. The post by Newley Purnell, headlined “American CEO of Singapore Startup First Meta Dies,” fell like a tree in a forest with no one around. It was only when the New York Post, the Daily Mail, and others cast their scruples aside and ran with the suicide link that the story captured global attention.
You Can't Post About Your Gun Trafficking Operation on Facebook Anymore
The gun rights debate is sticky and confusing, and things are no clearer online. Some e-commerce sites like eBay prohibit firearms sales to reduce liability and avoid interacting with widely varied state gun laws, but there are, of course, plenty of ways to buy a gun online either legally or illegally. Now Facebook is weighing in by introducing new policies that attempt to control illegal gun sales.
The “educational and enforcement measures” will delete posts about illegal gun transactions, remind users who may be gun sellers that gun sales are subject to state and federal regulation, and restrict minors from viewing pages where people sell or claim to sell guns.
Facebook is quick to explain that transactions never occur within the social network itself, but the company also acknowledges that as a free and ubiquitous service, its product can be used to coordinate lots of things, including the sale of illegal firearms. Under the new policies, users will be able to alert Facebook to pages that contain restricted content. Facebook will then review the case and present educational material to the offending user the next time she logs on. Facebook will also require pages for legal gun sellers to include educational material in their “About” section. On Instagram there will be “content advisories” for things like #buyguns searches.
Groups like Americans for Responsible Solutions, Sandy Hook Promise, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and Moms Demand Action have been putting the pressure on Facebook to make these types of changes for more than a year. But Facebook also seems to anticipate that these new policies make some accuse it of squashing speech. In the press release, Monika Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, writes:
People sometimes use our free tools to discuss products that are regulated or controversial. In some cases they promote these products for sale or use, even though it's not possible to complete a sale on Facebook or Instagram. While we've recently heard specific concerns from people about offers for the private sales of firearms, this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals' desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have consequences elsewhere.
The determined will certainly still find ways to buy and sell illegal guns online, but Facebook is a big enough service that these new policies could actually make a difference in reducing access both on the buyer and seller sides. It's nice to see Facebook throwing its weight around on an important national topic and not just in the aquisitions game.
Drone U: A Defense Department Engineer Warns About Drone Hacking
Every week on Future Tense, we highlight a talk from Drone U in which a leading thinker speaks about what our drone future may look like. Drone U is produced in cooperation with the New America Foundation. (Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.)
This week, Drone U features a podcast from Donna Dulo, a senior mathematician, computer scientist, and systems engineer for the United States Department of Defense.
Dulo catalogs the numerous legal issues that arise from drone use but ties them to a central problem: controlling and securing data. Drones should not be thought of as a single flying entity, she reminds us: They are in fact “a system of systems” including the actual machine, the GPS receiver, communications infrastructure, and personnel. All of these components must be secured against threats like malware and spoofing—no small task, especially given that methods to hack drones are already available.
How the Internet Unites Activists in Russia, China, and Cuba
On Tuesday, March 4, Emily Parker discussed her new book Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground with New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter at the New America offices in Washington, D.C. Slaughter and Parker, both veterans of the U.S. State Department, explored how the Internet can bring activists together in authoritarian countries—and the extent to which that online organizing can have real-world results.
Parker spent several years reporting her book, which looks closely at online networks in China, Cuba, and Russia. Over the course of that time she became familiar with the roles the Web plays in each. “They’re different because the way the government has controlled the Internet,” she said: China has its famous Great Firewall. Apathy reigns in Russia: “Eighty-five percent of Russians said [in one survey that] they felt they had no impact on their political process. The Internet is not going to change that,” Parker explained. And in Cuba, there is very little access: Just 5 percent of citizens go online.
Netizen Report: Journalists Dive for Yanukovych Documents, Literally
The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Lisa Ferguson, Solana Larsen, Hae-in Lim, Sarah Myers, Bojan Perkov and Sonia Roubini contributed to this report.
Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Ukraine, where a group of journalists have been hard at work in the days following Viktor Yanukovych’s departure from his estate outside Kiev to document and preserve evidence corruption under his administration. The group saved tens of thousands of documents (many of which were dumped into a nearby reservoir) found at the compound and has now posted them online. Among the dumped documents were receipts for millions of dollars in cash, a black list of local media workers, and plans for a military crackdown on protesters.
Microsoft Wants to Kill Windows XP, but it Just Won't Die
In five weeks Microsoft will end support for Windows XP. It's about time: At 13 years old, XP is ancient for an operating system. The problem is that a lot of computers are still running XP, and come April those machines will no longer receive security updates. But how many computers can it really be, right? Maybe everyone is just worried about some scraggly legacy tail on the end of the bell curve. Oh, it's 30 percent of total operating system market share worldwide? That's a lot.
Though XP market share has declined since Microsoft announced it would end support (it was at almost 39 percent this time last year according to Net Market Share), it actually reanimated briefly in recent weeks: In January it was at 29.3 percent, and in February it hopped up to 29.53 percent. (Windows 7, which is almost five years old itself, has been hovering around 47 percent lately, whereas Microsoft's latest operating systems, Windows 8 and 8.1, have about 10 percent between them.) Microsoft has been trying to get users to migrate away from XP with tools like "Am I Running XP?" which tells you whether the operating system on the computer you're using is XP and then shows the countdown to the end of XP support.
The explanation for XP's unprecedented longevity has to do with its strength as a product, extremely widespread corporate enterprise adoption, continued adoption during the failed Vista years (2007 to 2009), and enduring appeal compared with Microsoft's newer offerings. Though Windows 7 was pretty much fine, and Windows 8 is actually strong, XP has always seemed rock solid. Technology evolves at such a rapid pace because new capabilities and features are appealing enough to eclipse older innovations. Unless they aren't. The operating systems Microsoft has released since XP clearly haven't been enticing enough to motivate 30 percent of all computer users to switch. But with 33 days to go until support ends, it's time for a mass exodus.
What Hookahs Can Teach Us About 3-D Printing and Copyright
The caterpillar from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland taught generations of children a simple message: When you need to do some deep thinking about the world, a hookah is a great place to start. A case decided earlier this year in California brings comfort that, whatever future technology holds, the ability of the hookah to reveal inner truths about the world around us remains.
Inhale Inc. vs. Starbuzz Tobacco Inc. doesn’t just provide us with a window into the competitive world of hookah manufacturing. It offers a template for many of the 3-D printing copyright cases we are likely to see in the coming years.
One of the often-overlooked aspects of 3-D printing is of the way it demonstrates the limits of copyright. Unlike the articles, photos, movies, and Facebook postings that make up much of our online world, only some physical things are eligible for copyright protection. An easy copyright-or-not test is to divide things into two categories: artistic objects and useful objects. If an object is purely artistic—say, an abstract sculpture—it is eligible for copyright protection. But if an object is purely functional—say, a hinge—it is not eligible for copyright protection. (It may be eligible for patent protection, but for various reasons related to the process of getting a patent and how long they last, the number of patent-eligible things that are protected by patent is much smaller than the number of copyright-eligible things that are protected by copyright.)
While these categories are all well and good, in the real world many things aren’t just artistic or just functional. Instead, they are a mixture of the two. A hookah, to pick a not at all random example, illustrates this nicely.
Inhale was manufacturing and distributing a hookah with what, for the purposes of this article, were two distinct elements. The first was the shape of the hookah itself. The second was a series of skull-and-crossbones images that adorned the outside of the hookah. In 2011, Starbuzz Tobacco started selling a hookah that—according to Inhale, at least—was shaped exactly like the Inhale hookah. Importantly, the Starbuzz hookah did not include the skull-and-crossbones images.
Inhale sued Starbuzz for copyright infringement, claiming that Starbuzz was infringing on the copyrighted shape of the original hookah. But, in a twist that we are likely to see more of if 3-D printing-related litigation starts to spread, it turned out that even if Inhale was right about Starbuzz’s copying, it didn’t matter.
That is because copyright can only protect nonuseful objects. And a big part of any hookah’s design is to provide a useful function—a function the court described as “to hold the contents within its shape.”
In this case the court found that even though the Inhale hookah had a distinctive shape, “the shape of the alleged ‘artistic features’ and of the useful article are one in the same.” In other words, even the distinctive shape is still doing important functional work. That means it is not protected by copyright. Thus, even literal copying (if that’s what actually happened here) is not copyright infringement.
In contrast, the skull-and-crossbones design on the outside of the hookah serves no functional purpose (looking like a badass to college freshmen probably doesn’t qualify), so it probably would be protected by copyright. But since Starbuzz only copied the non-copyrightable shape of the hookah and not the non-functional decorations of the hookah, that didn’t really matter.
So what does this have to do with 3-D printing? The future of 3-D printing is going to bring us all sorts of objects. For better or worse, it will probably also bring us all sorts of claims related to copying objects from house spiders to citrus juicers and everything in between. This case serves as a concrete reminder that in the physical world copying does not always equal infringement. If a functional item isn’t patented, copyright won’t prevent it from being copied.
While this has always been the case, 3-D printers make it easier than ever to reproduce physical things. That will force everyone to remember that the “copyright on just about everything” world of the screen does not directly translate to the physical world.
But not everyone will remember. Some people are going to respond to the ability to reproduce physical things by trying to bring more infringement lawsuits. As you see those lawsuits, try your best to remember the lesson of Starbuzz: Copying isn’t infringement unless there is a copyright involved.
Microsoft Thinks Women Use Computers for Weddings and Babies
Women build computers, program computers, and use computers every day, but with its new "Honestly" ad campaign Microsoft is trying to bring us back to what really matters to women: marriage and babies. The campaign shows off products like the OneNote and Windows and touts features like touchscreens and affordability. But the crucial thing here is wedding bands, bridesmaids dresses, and moms providing laptops for their kids. Don't lose sight of that.
The OneNote ad below depicts a bride-to-be meeting with her (sometimes difficult, but always well-meaning!) bridesmaids to prepare for her wedding. The woman says that the OneNote is convenient for things like comparing wedding bands and using Pinterest, the only woman-friendly website out there. In an older ad, a woman waits for her kids to finish a karate class and talks about how nice it was to find an affordable laptop running Windows that her kids could all share. She says that her kids use their Windows laptop for homework, chatting, and playing games. So kids of both genders seem to know how to do stuff on computers, just not adult women.
They're funny, sure, but ads that misrepresent the relationship between technology and women aren't harmless. They perpetuate the idea that women are less equipped to interact with technology and imply that specific devices must be marketed to women to be appealing. Microsoft may think it's a good idea to work with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on their ads, but the partnership is producing some problematic results.
Enjoy Today's Internet on Retro Browsers
Retro trends emerge all the time, like high-waisted jeans, shoulder pads, or typewriters. It all comes back around. And app developer Antoni Sawicki, otherwise known as Tenox, works in a lot of old-skool browsers, so he had the idea to surf the Internet as it is now in browsers from a different time. It was a tough project, but eventually he was browsing on Netscape like a champ.
Sawicki used a Python script he found, plus some image manipulation, and HTML to get websites loading that would normally be far beyond the capabilites of old browsers. Though the fix only works in OS X right now, Sawicki wants to expand it to other operating systems like Linux. He writes on Fun With Virtualization that:
But his successful setup allowed Sawicki to look at sites like the Apple homepage and CNN on all sorts of retro browsers. It might not be the height of retro glamour, but it's really fun to see these old browser friends in all their anachronistic glory.
Tony Hawk, Doc Brown, and Moby Just Made an Amazing Video. Too Bad It's a Big Fat Lie.
Yes, Virginia, hoverboards are real. At least, that's what this viral video would have you believe:
The commercial is so slickly produced, so laden with earnest celebrities, and so emphatic in its promises that the hoverboard is “real” that, for a moment, it almost convinced even me—and I, of all people, ought to know better. Even if the tech bloggers weren’t taken in—TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington was among the first to debunk—it’s bound to hoodwink gullible kids around the world who want nothing more than to believe that they really can fly, through the miracles of science and technology.
Some hoaxes are funny. Some deftly satirize some aspect of our culture. Some, like the computer-generated gibberish papers that made it into scientific journals, cleverly expose dangerously low institutional standards.
But other hoaxes—and these disproportionately tend to fall into the “viral marketing stunt” category—amount to nothing but cynical exploitation of humans’ tendency to believe other humans when they say something is true. As my colleague Daniel Engber wrote of Jimmy Kimmel’s “twerk fail” hoax:
It’s a hostile, self-promoting act—a covert ad for Jimmy Kimmel Live—rendered as ironic acid that corrodes our sense of wonder. If the Web provides a cabinet of curiosities, full of freakish baubles of humanity, the hoaxer smashes it to bits, then counts his money while he preens atop the rubble.
That goes double for this one. Whatever the video’s intent, its primary achievement is to leave young people feeling a little more jaded than they were before. Is that really what you want, Christopher Lloyd?
A clever hoax invites you to believe; a bad one has to beg. This one crosses that line at precisely the 58-second mark, when it displays the following screen:
It’s one thing to tell a gullible kid there’s a Santa Claus. This is more like telling her there’s a Santa Claus, and then saying, “No, seriously, I promise to you that I am not lying. Santa Claus is completely real.” And then bringing in celebrities, at huge cost, to attest to Santa Claus’s existence. And then, presumably, getting around to admitting that Santa is fake after all, and that the whole thing was a stunt to grab her attention so you could sell her something.
We don’t yet know exactly who orchestrated this video or to what end, although there are some clues. Some have speculated that it’s viral marketing for a new Nike product, Tony Hawk video game, Back to the Future Movie, or even a Back to the Future musical. Whatever it is, two things are clear: It’s not a hoverboard, and we’re not buying it—in any sense of the phrase.
Previously in Slate: