August 2012

Nicolas Christin on anonymous online market Silk Road

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Nicholas Christin, Associate Director of the Information Networking Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, discuses the Silk Road anonymous online marketplace. Silk Road is a site where buyers and sellers can exchange goods much like eBay and Craigslist. The difference is that the identity of both the buyers and sellers is anonymous and goods are exchanged for bitcoins rather than traditional currencies. The site has developed a reputation of being a popular online portal for buying and selling drugs because of this anonymity, which has caused some politicians to call for the site to be investigated and closed by law enforcement. Despite all of this, the Silk Road remains a very stable marketplace with a very good track record of consumer satisfaction. Christin conducted an extensive empirical study of the site, which he discusses.

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Fred Campbell on broadband deployment

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Fred Campbell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Communications Liberty and Innovation Project and adjunct professor of Law at the University of Nebraska, discusses the deployment of broadband in the United States. ISPs such as Verizon and AT&T have had difficulty rolling out their fiber networks due to regulatory barriers that are legacies from past technological eras, says Campbell. The natural contrast to the difficulties of these companies is the recent entrance of Google into the broadband market with its own fiber network service in Kansas City. Rather than going to municipalities and asking for the right to install their network, Google turned the tables by holding a contest for their service and selecting the most accommodating city. Campbell talks about pros and cons to these and various other strategies to deploy broadband, including as open access.

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Donald Harris on copyright law and alcohol prohibition

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Donald P. Harris, associate professor of law at Temple University discusses the regulation of file sharing. Harris explains that Alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s and 1930s as an historical example of laws that were inconsistent with the vast majority of society’s morals and norms. Looking back, one can see many similarities between the Alcohol and Filesharing Prohibitions. Harris suggests, then, that lessons learned from the failed “noble experiment” of Alcohol Prohibition should be applied to the current filesharing controversy. Doing so, he advocates legalizing certain noncommercial filesharing. A scheme along those lines would better comport with societal norms, he argues, and would force new business models to replace outdated and ineffective business models.

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Stefan Krappitz on Internet troll culture

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Stefan Krappitz, author of the book Troll Culture: A Comprehensive Guide, discusses the phenomenon of internet trolling. For Krappitz trolling is disrupting people for personal amusement. Trolling is largely a positive phenomenon, argues Krappitz. While it can become very negative in some cases, for the most part trolling is simply an amusing practice that is no different than playing practical jokes. Krappitz believes that trolling has been around since before the age of the Internet. He notes that the behavior of Socrates is reminiscent of trolling because he pretended to be a student and then used his questioning to mock people who did not know what they were talking about. Krappitz also discusses anonymity and how it contributes and takes away from trolling as well as discussing where the line is between good trolling and cyber-bullying.

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