Netizens Blast AT&T for Jamming Pearl Jam’s Bush Bashing

As rock band Pearl Jam performed a set as part of the Lollapalooza music festival this week, AT&T broadcast the performance over the Internet as part of its Blue Room webcast. However, the webcast’s audio cut out at a significant point in the band’s performance — the moment that singer Eddie Vedder began singing lyrics that apparently bashed President George W. Bush.

The incident came to Pearl Jam’s attention after the August 5 performance, prompting the band to post a message on an Internet forum about what happened, along with YouTube videos showing the actual performance and the censored AT&T feed.

During the performance of the song “Daughter,” the censored lyrics where sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” but were cut from the webcast. AT&T’s content monitor muted the lyrics, “George Bush, leave this world alone” and “George Bush find yourself another home.”

‘Much Bigger Than the Censorship of a Rock Band’

The band said the incident amounted to censorship.

“This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media,” Pearl Jam noted on the band’s Web site blog.

“What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band,” Pearl Jam said.

Best Intentions Gone Wrong

AT&T’s Blue Room starts with noble enough intentions. AT&T works with different concert events to sponsor and stream live performances to the Web so people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend can watch their favorite bands live from their computers. It’s a free site. AT&T says it has webcasted 17 free concerts featuring approximately 310 bands in over 350 hours of live music — and that censoring of lyrics hasn’t happened before.

The Blue Room isn’t age restricted, so AT&T has a policy about excessive profanity — outside of the lyrics of the songs — and nudity.

On AT&T’s blue room site, the company noted in large, white text:

“We screwed up on Sunday night when we deleted some lyrics from a live Pearl Jam performance that we were webcasting on attblueroom.com. We understand why Pearl Jam and their fans are upset. We’re upset, too, and embarrassed by this mistake which is totally against our policy — of never, ever censoring political speech.”

Furthermore, AT&T, while apparently accepting responsibility, is also blaming an unnamed contracted vendor.

“The editing of the Pearl Jam performance on Sunday night was not intended, but rather a mistake by a webcast vendor and contrary to our policy,” Michael Coe, a spokesperson for AT&T, told the E-Commerce Times. “We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not edit or censor performances. We have that policy in place because the blue room is not age-restricted.”

AT&T says it regrets the mistake and is trying to work with the band to post the song in its entirety. Pearl Jam did not respond to press inquires this morning.

Fuel for the Net Neutrality Debate

“There’s evidence mounting that this might not be an accident because there’s an allegation that’s been put forward, in Wired, that two other bands have been censored at (music festival) Bonnaroo,” Jenny Toomey, executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, told the E-Commerce Times.

“It seems less like it was an overzealous censor and more like it was policy that ‘We don’t want political speech,'” she said.

Wired, for its part, noted that it received an e-mail that was also sent to the Chicago Sun Times, the LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal, and that the message alleges that AT&T censored bands including The Flaming Lips and The John Butler Trio during previous webcasts.

The Question of Character

This AT&T/Pearl Jam incident is important to the issue of network neutrality, Toomey noted, because it speaks to the character of AT&T.

“And character is actually quite important to net neutrality because telecoms have been able to avoid reasonable regulation that the telephone companies for years and years had to operate under — that basically said they wouldn’t use their control of the pipe to unfairly compete with other folks who were using their lines. And the telecoms have been able to avoid this kind of regulation because they say they can be trusted to never do that,” Toomey explained.

The fact that AT&T is doing this, then, raises a huge question of the company’s character.

“Can they be trusted to tell the truth about the Internet and what they are going to do on the Internet when they can’t be trusted with something as simple as a Web feed? If they are willing to risk looking like they are censoring someone, in front of the 100,000 or so people who were watching the webcast of one of the most popular bands in American history, then what are they going to do when no one is watching?” Toomey said.

“So, which of us can watch the packet switching that’s going on? We can’t, and that’s why there needs to be clear laws and rules with severe consequences if someone uses their power in a way that’s anticompetitive,” she added.

If AT&T did indeed intend to stifle political speech, it pretty much backfired — the action was noticed, broadcast around the world over the Internet, resulted in bad press for AT&T and ultimately has received far more attention than a few anti-Bush lyrics ever would have generated on their own.

The real concern of net neutrality proponents is that this sort of exposure could be dampened — not only that content could be censored with little recourse for viewers or artists — but also that it could be throttled back to prevent the spread of less-privileged information.

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OPINION

The Importance of the Metaverse Standards Forum

Metaverse Standards Forum

For most of us the metaverse is mostly hype about the promise of a new internet that we could explore virtually. As it’s currently implemented, the metaverse is reminiscent of the networked world pre-internet. It is represented by a bunch of very different and unique attempts to create what seems much like a walled garden approach, more like AOL and CompuServe than the post-Netscape internet that we enjoy today.

The implementations range from useful — like those using Nvidia’s Omniverse — to promises of “something” from Meta (formerly known as Facebook) that, at least now, mostly disappoint. Granted that disappointment is likely due to overset expectations than any slacking off by Meta. This is often a problem with new technologies where expectations are overset and then people are underwhelmed by the result.

Now, with last week’s announcement of the Metaverse Standards Forum, it looks like the industry is stepping up to one of the major problems with the metaverse, which is the lack of interoperability and internet-like standards that could allow for a much more seamless future metaverse.

Let’s talk about how important this movement is this week. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, a mobile solar solution that could help avoid the ecological and power outage problems that states like California and Texas are expected to experience as climate change makes their electric grids less reliable.

The Current Metaverse

At present, the metaverse isn’t a thing so much as it is a lot of things.

The most advanced version of the metaverse today is Nvidia’s Omniverse. This tool is used for designing buildings, training autonomous robots (including autonomous cars), and forms the foundation of Earth-2, which is designed to better simulate and predict weather — both to provide earlier notification of major weather events and design potential remedies for global climate change.

While many seem to think the metaverse will grow to replace the internet, I’m doubtful that this can or will happen. The internet organizes information relatively efficiently. Moving to a VR interface from a test interface might slow down the data access process with no offsetting advantage.

The metaverse is best for simulation, emulation and specifically for tasks where using a virtual environment and machine speeds could solve critical problems more quickly and accurately than existing alternatives. For those tasks, it is already proving itself valuable. While it will likely evolve into something more like the Holodeck in “Star Trek” or the virtual world portrayed in the movie “The Matrix,” it isn’t there yet.

What’s Still Needed

What we can do now is create photorealistic images that can be explored virtually. But what we can’t do is create realistic digital twins of humans to populate the metaverse. We can’t yet instrument the human body so that you could experience the metaverse as if it was real, and our primary interface, VR glasses, are large, heavy and make the 3D glasses the market had rejected earlier look a lot better in contrast.

These problems aren’t cheap or easy to fix. If they had to be uniquely solved for each of the metaverse instances, the evolution of the metaverse and our experiences in it would be set back years, if not decades.

What is needed is the level of cooperation and collaboration that created the internet to now focus on creating the metaverse, and that is exactly what may have happened last week.

Acclaimed Founding Members

The formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum directly addresses this interoperability and standards problem.

Both Meta and Nvidia are on this forum, which consists of a Who’s Who of tech companies — except for Apple, a firm that generally wants to go it alone. Heavy hitters like Microsoft, Adobe, Alibaba, Huawei, Qualcomm, and Sony are participating, along with Epic Games (the metaverse promises a future where you could game in the digital twin of your home, school, or office).

Existing standards groups including the Spatial Web Foundation, Web3D Consortium, and World Wide Web Consortium have all joined, as well.

Hosted by Khronos Group, membership to the MSF is free and open to any organization, so watch for companies from numerous industries to enlist. Forum meetings are expected to start next month.

This effort should significantly increase the speed of advancement for the metaverse and make it far more useful for more things; going well beyond what Nvidia is successfully using it for today and reach a future where we can use it for everything from entertainment and gaming to creating our digital twins and the potential for digital immortality.

Wrapping Up: The Metaverse Grows Up

I expect the formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum to massively accelerate the evolution of the metaverse and move it toward a common concept that could interoperate across providers.

While I don’t believe it will ever replace the internet, I do think it could evolve into an experience that, over time, we could largely live and play in for much of our lives, potentially enriching those lives significantly.

I imagine virtual vacations, more engaging remote meetings, and video games that are more realistic than ever before, all because of an effort to better collaborate and set standards that will benefit the entire mixed reality market.

The metaverse is coming and, thanks to the Metaverse Standards Forum, it will arrive faster and be better than it could have been.

Tech Product of the Week

Sesame Solar Nanogrid

Those of us who live in states where power has become unreliable due to global warming and poorly planned electrical grids are expected to have some serious problems when it comes to extreme weather.

Companies and institutions have generator backups, but there are increasing gas and diesel shortages. So, not only are these generators likely to be unreliable when used for extended periods, they are anything but green and will exacerbate the climate change problem they’re supposed to mitigate.

Sesame Solar has an institutional solution for this problem, a large solar-generating trailer that also has a hydrogen fuel cell to generate power at night or on overcast days.

The trailer can also process and filter local water, which could relieve residents from weather or crisis-related water shortages.

Sesame Solar appears to do a far better job of mitigating power outages without producing greenhouse gases which would exacerbate the problem. As a result, the Sesame Solar Nanogrid is my product of the week.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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Digital Devices of Corporate Brass Ripe for Hacker Attacks

Digital devices and home networks of corporate executives, board members and high-value employees with access to financial, confidential and proprietary information are ripe targets for malicious actors, according to a study released Tuesday by a cybersecurity services firm.

The connected home is a prime target for cybercriminals, but few executives or security teams realize the prominence of this emerging threat, noted the study based on an analysis of data from more 1,000 C-suite, board members and high profile executives from over 55 U.S.-based Fortune 1000 companies who are using the executive protection platform of BlackCloak.

“BlackCloak’s study is exceptional,” observed Darren Guccione, CEO of Keeper Security, a password management and online storage company.

“It helps illuminate the pervasive issues and vulnerabilities caused by millions of businesses migrating to distributed, remote work while at the same time, transacting with corporate websites, applications and systems from unsecured home networks,” he told TechNewsWorld.

BlackCloak’s researchers discovered that nearly a quarter of the executives (23%) have open ports on their home networks, which is highly unusual.

BlackCloak CISO Daniel Floyd attributed some of those open ports to third-party installers. “They’re an audio-visual or IT company that, because they don’t want to send a truck out when things break, they’ll set up port-forwarding on the firewall,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It allows them to remotely connect to the network to solve problems,” he continued. “Unfortunately, they’re being set up improperly with default credentials or vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched for four or five years.”

Exposed Security Cameras

An open port resembles an open door explained Taylor Ellis, a customer threat analyst with Horizon3 AI, an automated penetration testing as a service company in San Francisco. “You wouldn’t leave your door unlocked 24/7 in this day and age, and it’s the same way with an open port on a home network,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“To a business leader,” he continued, “the threat of breaking and entering escalates when you have an open port providing access to sensitive data.”

“A port acts like a communication gateway for a specific service hosted on a network,” he said. “An attacker can easily open a backdoor into one of these services and manipulate it to do their bidding.”

Of the open ports on the home networks of corporate brass, the report noted, 20% were connected to open security cameras, which can also pose a risk to an executive or board member.

“Security cameras have often been used by threat actors both to plant and distribute malware, but perhaps more importantly to provide surveillance on patterns and habits — and if the resolution is good enough, to see passwords and other credentials being entered,” noted Bud Broomhead, CEO of Viakoo, a developer of cyber and physical security software solutions in Mountain View, Calif.

“Many IP cameras have default passwords and out-of-date firmware, making them ideal targets for being breached and once breached making it easier for threat actors to move laterally within the home network,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Data Leaks

The BlackCloak researchers also discovered that the personal devices of corporate brass were equally, if not more, insecure than their home networks. More than a quarter of the execs (27%) had malware on their devices, and more than three-quarters of their devices (76%) were leaking data.

One way data leaks from smartphones is through applications. “A lot of apps will ask for sensitive permissions that they don’t need,” Floyd explained. “People will open the app for the first time and just click through the settings not realizing they’re giving the app access to their location data. Then the app will sell that location data to a third party.”

“It’s not only executives and their personal devices, it’s everyone’s personal devices,” added Chris Hills, chief security strategist at BeyondTrust, maker of privileged account management and vulnerability management solutions in Carlsbad, Calif.

“The amount of data, PII, even PHI, that the common smartphone contains these days is mind-boggling,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We don’t realize how vulnerable we can be when we don’t think about security as it relates to our smartphones.”

Personal device security doesn’t seem to be top of mind for many executives. The study found that nearly nine out of 10 of them (87%) have no security installed on their devices.

Mobile OS Security Deficient

“Many devices ship without security software installed, and even if they do it may not be sufficient,” Broomhead noted. “For example, Samsung Android devices ship with Knox security, which has had security holes found in it previously.”

“The device manufacturer may try to make tradeoffs between security and usability that may favor usability,” he added.

Hills maintained that most people are comfortable and content in thinking that the underlying operating system of their smartphone contains the needed security measures to keep the bad guys out.

“For the common person, it’s probably enough,” he said. “For the business executive that has more to lose given their role in a business or company, the security blanket of the underlying operating system just isn’t enough.”

“Unfortunately, in most cases,” he continued, “there is so much we focus on trying to protect as individuals, sometimes some of the most common get overlooked, such as our smartphones.”

Privacy Protections Lacking

Another finding by the BlackCloak researchers was that most personal accounts of executives, such as email, e-commerce, and applications, lack basic privacy protections.

In addition, they discovered security credentials of executives — such as bank and social media passwords — are readily available on the dark web, making them susceptible to social engineering attacks, identity theft, and fraud.

Nearly nine of 10 executives (87%) have passwords currently leaked on the dark web, the researchers noted, and more than half (53%) are not using a secure password manager. Meanwhile, only 8% have activated multifactor authentication enabled across a majority of the applications and devices.

“While measures like multifactor authentication aren’t perfect, these basic best practices are essential, especially for the board/C-suite who often opt-out of the requirement as a matter of convenience,” Melissa Bischoping, an endpoint security research specialist with Tanium, maker of an endpoint management and security platform in Kirkland, Wash. told TechNewsWorld.

“Attacking personal digital lives might be a new risk for enterprises to consider,” the researchers wrote, “but it is a risk that requires immediate attention. Adversaries have determined that executives at home are a path of least resistance, and they will compromise this attack vector for as long as it is safe, seamless, and lucrative for them to do so.”

John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.

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