The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Wikipedia

What if solar storms knocked out the Internet?


The likelihood is remote, but there's a chance that a solar flare like the one that disrupted the Earth's electromagnetic field Tuesday could be responsible for the temporary demise of the Internet -- or at least your ability to access it.

Don't believe us? Well, in 1989 electrical ground currents created by another solar storm made their way into the power grid of the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority, causing 6 million people to lose electricity. Elevators stopped working. Office buildings went dark. Engineers in Northern America were worried the blackout could travel down the Eastern Seaboard, although that never came to pass.

The U.S. government has since invested in research that has improved the design of electrical systems to make them less vulnerable to the effects of a solar storm. Still, we thought it was an interesting exercise to imagine what would happen if we were forced to live for a few hours, days or even weeks in a world without Internet.

Here are our top five predictions.

1. Self-promotion would become gauche again. Somewhere along our journey to total digital dependence -- maybe around 2007 or 2008 -- we accepted, as a society, that when it came to managing our Internet persona, it was clearly self-promote or perish. Did your kid do well on the SATs? Tell your 256 friends on Facebook all about it. Got a new project going at work? Tweet it loud and proud. Got a big story dropping in Vanity Fair? Email everyone in your address list. But in a world without Internet, where you have to look someone in the face while bragging, all this 'look how great I am' stuff might start to feel weird again.

2. Remembering who directed a movie would be a major project. Instant access to information through Wikipedia, IMDB and even Google has made it weirdly easy to answer any pop culture question that occurs to us at absolutely any time. If the 1986 film "Labyrinth" came up at Christmas dinner, you could figure out who directed it with just a few taps on a smartphone. But in a world without Internet, that same question could keep you guessing, or arguing, all night long.

3. Deal hunting would become a sport again. We are drowning in a daily deluge of deals. Gilt Groupe, HauteLook, Groupon, Blackboard Eats -- those are just a handful of sites that entice Internet users to save money by spending money on fancy local restaurants, Juicy Couture clothes, pricey sunglasses and spa treatments. But in a world without Internet, knowing which nail salon was giving 50 percent off a mani-pedi would take actual leg work. You'd have to really want it to find it.

4. Collecting would take effort. In today's world, deciding to start a collection of Art Deco jewelry, or mid-century pottery, or tea pots, or door knobs or Persian rugs with animals in the design is as simple as going on EBay and forking over cash. But in a world without Internet these collector gems could be found only by combing through Goodwills and tag sales. Stinky, time consuming and frequently unrewarding work.

5. You'd hear a lot fewer Apple rumors. In an online news cycle that demands constant updating, unsubstantiated rumors that Apple's next iPad might have better resolution than its last iPad is considered a major news story. In a world in which we had to typeset our stories by hand, pay for the paper they were printed on and the ink that they were printed with,'d probably hear only about one Apple rumor a week.


Solar storms may cause dropped calls on cellphones

Apple reports record sales of iPhones, iPads and Macs

Google plans to merge more user data across its products

-- Deborah Netburn

SOPA sent back to the drawing board in wake of Internet protests

Sopa protester

The SOPA online piracy bill that helped spark this week's unprecedented Internet protests will be redrafted, its lead sponsor said Friday.

The move came shortly after the Senate postponed a key vote on the companion PIPA bill scheduled for next week and amid calls for consensus before Congress moves forward on any legislation to address the problem of foreign piracy websites.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) had hoped to push his Stop Online Piracy Act through the committee next month. But in the wake of growing opposition triggered by Wednesday's Internet blackout, Smith said the committee "will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution."

PHOTOS: Sites that went dark to protest SOPA

"I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," Smith said. "It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products."

Smith said his committee "remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also said he was committed to addressing the problem. But he blasted opponents of his Protect Intellectual Property Act, which unanimously passed the committee last year and appeared headed for approval by the full Senate within weeks before the Internet protests caused several colleagues to withdraw their support.

Leahy said he respected the decision Friday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to postpone Tuesday's planned procedural vote, which would have brought the bill to the full Senate so it could be debated and amended. And Leahy said he was committed to revising the bill to address opponents' concerns and getting legislation passed this year.

But he warned, "The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem."

"Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy," Leahy said.

Christopher Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, echoed Leahy's concerns about the impact of the delay and said he hoped the additional time would allow "the dynamics of the conversation" to change.

"As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves; American jobs will continue to be lost; and consumers will continue to be exposed to fraudulent and dangerous products peddled by foreign criminals," Dodd said.

Opponents of the legislation were thrilled with the retreat and called for a consensus on how to tackle the problem of foreign piracy websites.

"Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has introduced narrower legislation favored by the Internet industry.

The White House also has called for consensus legislation.

Internet activists said Congress should start over in gauging the true scope of the online piracy problem and redrafting the legislation.

"Simply tinkering with the details ... is not the way to go," said Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group. 


PIPA anti-piracy bill vote postponed in Senate

MegaUpload file sharing site shut down for piracy by Feds

Uproar over proposed bills delays answer to Internet piracy

-- Jim Puzzanghera in Washington

Photo: Nadine Wolf demonstrates against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) outside the offices of Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday in New York. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images.

PIPA anti-piracy bill vote postponed in Senate

Next week's scheduled vote on the PIPA anti-piracy bill has been postponed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

Next week's scheduled vote on the PIPA anti-piracy bill has been postponed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, handing a defeat to Hollywood and a major victory to Internet companies that launched online protests to battle the legislation and its House companion, known as SOPA.

"In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the Protect IP Act," Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday. He called for all sides to work together to resolve "legitimate issues" raised about the bill to crack down on foreign websites that traffic in pirated movies, music and other goods.

"Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices," Reid said. "We made good progress through the discussions we've held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks."

PHOTOS: Sites that went dark to protest SOPA

Wikipedia led a 12-to-24-hour blackout by more than 10,000 websites on Wednesday in protest of the proposed Protect Intellectual Property Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. The sites directed people to contact their members of Congress, flooding Capitol Hill with calls and emails.

The bills are strongly backed by the entertainment industry and had been on a fast track to approval, with the Senate set to hold a key procedural vote on Tuesday. But the protests led several co-sponsors of the legislation to pull their support, with numerous other lawmakers vowing to oppose the legislation in its current form out of concern that it could squelch free speech on the Internet and lead to the shutdown of legitimate sites.


MegaUpload file sharing site shut down for piracy by Feds

Click here to find out more!SOPA and PIPA opponents warn the bills are not dead yet

Uproar over proposed bills delays answer to Internet piracy

-- Jim Puzzanghera in Washington

Photo: Protesters in New York on Wednesday demonstrate against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

SOPA blackouts inspired protest around the world

Internet strike worldwide

Millions of Americans responded to the historic SOPA and PIPA blackouts implemented by thousands of websites both large and small Wednesday, but Americans weren't the only ones moved to action.

The whole world was watching, and the whole world chimed in.

On Wednesday, activist website Avaaz, which has a worldwide member base of more than 10 million, asked its members to sign a petition from "concerned global citizens" urging members of Congress to vote against both PIPA and the SOPA.

"The Internet is a crucial tool for people around the world to exchange ideas and work collectively to build the world we all want," the petition read. "We urge you to show true global leadership and do all you can to protect this basic pillar of our democracies worldwide."

PHOTO: Sites gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills

On Thursday, Avaaz reports that 1.8 million from 141 countries around the world signed its petition. The petition did especially well in Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Canada and Mexico, but people in Jamaica, Morocco and Malaysia also lent their voices.

Here's a breakdown of some of the countries with the most signees.

USA: 211,158

Spain: 136,664

Brazil: 131,662

Germany: 128,523

Britain: 121,333

France: 110,968

Mexico: 107,485

Canada: 101,343

Argentina: 88,726

Netherlands: 29,746

South Africa: 17,953

Even those who have not been inspired to sign petitions are still paying close attention to the debate. The BBC reports that the debate over SOPA and PIPA in Congress and on the Web is being carefully observed in Britain by people who fall on both sides of the issue.

Some bloggers in China, where Internet censorship is the norm, had a more humorous take on the day of protest.

The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, quipped: "Don't understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?"


Apple says iBooks 2 app reinvents textbooks

Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

SOPA and PIPA opponents warn the bills are not dead yet

-- Deborah Netburn

Image: Screen shot of's homepage the day the Internet went on strike.

Wikipedia: SOPA protest led 8 million to look up reps in Congress


On Wednesday, some of the Internet's largest entities blacked out their websites -- or their logos or some of their content -- in a protest against the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills making their way through Congress.

If you're wondering whether all of this had an effect, the answer is yes. Big time.

Wikipedia, the largest Web player to block access to its pages for a full 24 hours, reports that a whopping 162 million people experienced the blackout on the online encyclopedia's landing page. In addition, 8 million U.S. readers took Wikipedia's suggestion and looked up their congressional reps from the site.

Google reported Wednesday that as of 1:30 PM PST, 4.5 million people had signed its petition asking lawmakers to reject the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate.

Twitter said 2.4 million SOPA-related tweets were sent in the first 16 hours of the day Wednesday. The top five terms were SOPA, Stop SOPA, PIPA, Tell Congress, #factswithoutwikipedia.

WordPress reports that at least 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the SOPA and PIPA protest by blacking out their blogs entirely, and an additional 12,500 had posted a "Stop Censorship" ribbon.

“The Wikipedia blackout is over and the public has spoken,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement. “162 million of you saw our blackout page asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down the congressional switchboards, and you melted their servers. Your voice was loud and strong.”


Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills? [Updated]

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: A laptop in London shows Wikipedia's protest page on Wednesday. Credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

Bloggers in China sound off on SOPA blackout

Watching from China, where Web censorship is practically a national hallmark, some can't help but smirk and crack jokes about the controversy raging over Internet freedom in the U.S.

"Now the U.S. government is copying us and starting to build their own firewall," wrote one micro-blogger, relating China's chief censorship tool to the U.S. plan to block sites that trade in pirated material.

The Relevant Organs, an anonymous Twitter account (presumably) pretending to be the voice of the Chinese communist leadership, quipped: "Don't understand the hoopla over Wikipedia blackout in the U.S. today. We blacked it out here years ago. Where are OUR hugs?"

PHOTOS: Sites on strike against SOPA and PIPA

Humor aside, the brouhaha has generated some strong opinions in the country that  Google fled, not the least because opponents of the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy bills are conjuring Chinese Web censorship to promote their case.

The consensus here, however, appears to be this: Americans should try a minute in our shoes before invoking online Armageddon.

Continue reading »

Google says 4.5 million people signed anti-SOPA petition today

Google's infographic on SOPA and PIPA

When Google speaks, the world listens.

And today, when Google asked its users to sign a petition protesting two anti-piracy laws circulating in Congress, millions responded.

A spokeswoman for Google confirmed that 4.5 million people added their names to the company's anti-SOPA petition today.

Not too shabby.

The petition, which was available via a link from Google's homepage, states that although fighting online piracy is important, the plan of attack described in the SOPA and PIPA bills would be ineffective.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

"There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs," the petition reads. "Too much is at stake -– please vote NO on PIPA and SOPA."

The search engine frequently delights users by toying with its homepage logo, but on Wednesday it did something it had never done before: it blocked out its logo completely.

A link below the blackout read "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!" and lead to a page with the petition.

Of course, Google's anti-SOPA and PIPA petition is not the only one out there on this day of mass online protest. As of this writing 1.458 million people signed a similar petition at the activist website, and Fight for the Future said that between its two sites, and, at least 350,000 people have sent emails to representatives in the House and Senate.

A graphic put out by Google shows that before today's coordinated protests, 3 million Americans had signed various petitions against the two bills.

In other SOPA number news, a spokeswoman from the popular blogging platform WordPress, said that at last count, 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the SOPA and PIPA protest by blacking out their blogs entirely, and another 12,500 used the "Stop Censorship" ribbon.

Today, the White House Blog reports that 103,785 people signed petitions through the We The People website asking the president to protect a free and open Internet.


SOPA blackout: How many have joined the fight?

SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills? [Updated]

-- Deborah Netburn

Image: Google's infographic on the fight against SOPA. Credit: Google

SOPA blackout: How many have joined the fight? on Wednesday Jan 18

There's something awesome and kind of a folksy feeling about today's first semi-coordinated online protest against anti-piracy bills that have been circulating around Congress.

But how many people have actually been moved to action?

That's where the kind of coordinated-ness of it all gets a little annoying. Almost all of the striking websites suggest visitors take some sort of action against the bill -- some recommend you get in touch with your congressional representative to express your opposition to SOPA and PIPA,  others ask users to sign a petition expressing their concern over the bills.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

But even these petitions are not centralized, so it's difficult to tally how many people have been moved to participate.

Here's what we have been able to gather, as of this writing:

48,882 people have liked the Against the Stop Online Piracy Act page on Facebook.

Google is reporting more than 3 million Americans have signed various petitions opposing SOPA.

51,689 signed a petition on the White House's website We the People, asking the Obama administration to veto SOPA.

1.4 million people worldwide signed a "Save the Internet" petition on the activist website is reporting that 68,620 people have changed either their Twitter, Google+ or Facebook profile picture to feature an anti-SOPA message.

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit, is reporting that 75,000 sites have signed up to participate in the protest, and that between its two sites and, 350,000 people have sent emails sent to their two senators and their representatives.

We'll keep updating as we learn more.


SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills?

Wikipedia still accessible during SOPA blackout -- with a little effort

-- Deborah Netburn

Image: A screen shot of Google's anti-SOPA home page.

SOPA blackout: Protests hits streets of NYC, SF, Seattle, Las Vegas

Photo: Poeple meetup in an event organized by the group New York Tech Meetup to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy outside the offices of U.S. Democratic Senators from New York Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Schumer and Gillibrand are co-sponsors of the Senate bill PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is the US House version. Credit: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

The protests against the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) spread from the Web into the streets of New York on Wednesday.

According to the New York Times, the New York Daily News, USA Today, Cnet and Mashable, hundreds (and maybe thousands) of people organized by the group New York Tech Meetup protested in person and with signs against SOPA and PIPA outside of the offices of New York Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats.

The group, which reportedly has about 20,000 members, targeted Schumer and Gillibrand for the protest because the two are co-sponsors of PIPA. The protesters, which police corralled into metal barriers on a sidewalk in front of the senators' Manhattan offices, called for Schumer and Gillibrand to withdraw their support for PIPA -- a move a few politicians took on Wednesday amid the widespread online actions against the proposed laws.

Similar protests were also planned Wednesday in San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

While lawmakers in support of SOPA and PIPA have said that the bills are written to protect against online piracy and theft of American-made films, TV shows, music and other digital goods, those against the bills say the legislation would open the door to online censorship that would essentially ruin the free flow of information on the Web.

PHOTOS: Sites on strike

Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the New York Tech Meetup, told the New York Daily News that not only would SOPA and PIPA open the door to censorship of the Internet, but the laws would also have negative effects on the ability of the U.S. to remain a leader in the global tech industry.

"Because a new innovation by a start-up could be interpreted by a judge unfamiliar with how the technology works as infringing on copyright, investors and entrepreneurs would be discouraged from moving forward with a start-up due to a significantly increased risk of legal entanglement," Rasiej told the New York Daily News. "This in turn would dampen job creation and future opportunities for New Yorkers and Americans as a whole."


More opponents of PIPA and SOPA emerge on the right

SOPA blackout: Bills lose three co-sponsors amid protests

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills?

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Photo: People gather outside the offices of two U.S. senators from New York, including Sen. Charles "Chuck" Schumer,  to protest against proposed laws to curb Internet piracy. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images

SOPA blackout: Who’s gone dark to protest anti-piracy bills? [Updated]


Wednesday, Jan. 18: the day of the SOPA "blackout" protest. As you may have seen from our coverage, major names in the online world such as Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla and Reddit are censoring their own websites with black bars and blacked-out pages in protest of SOPA and PIPA, two online anti-piracy bills currently under consideration on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers who support the bills say the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act will protect the intellectual property rights of music, movie and TV studios. But the websites and tech giants taking part in the Wednesday blackout argue that SOPA and PIPA would allow for a censoring of the Internet that would forever alter the Web and what we can do, say and publish online.

And it's not just Silicon Valley that's protesting SOPA and PIPA in the day-long blackout -- a few publications that cover the tech world are taking part as well, including Wired and ArsTechnica.

Here's a list of more than 30 websites (and screen shots of each) we've spotted that are protesting today in the form of full-on blackouts or even just making their anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA stances known publicly. If there are a few we've missed, feel free to let us know in the comments.

Wikipedia's English website

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Andrea Chang
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W.J. Hennigan
Tiffany Hsu
Deborah Netburn
Nathan Olivarez-Giles
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