Weekend news round-up: anti-CISPA web blackout; US to tax the internet?

22 Apr 2013

In our trawl through the weekend’s best tech stories, it has emerged that the US Senate is about to vote on legislation to give states the power to tax online purchases; how Boston tech start-ups banded together in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy; Anonymous is leading a protest against CISPA; and Google’s Eric Schmidt discusses North Korea, a country in the digital dark.

US Senate to back internet tax?

Hilicon Valley reported that US senators are expected to pass legislation that will give various US states the power to tax online purchases.

“Last month, 75 senators voted for a non-binding budget resolution amendment expressing support for allowing states to tax online retailers. Although the vote had no legal impact, it was an important demonstration of support for the legislation.

“Under current law, states can only collect sales taxes from retailers that have a physical presence in their state. People who order items online from another state are supposed to declare the purchases on their tax forms, but few do.

“The Marketplace Fairness Act would empower states to tax online purchases but would exempt small businesses that earn less than $1m annually from out-of-state sales.”

Start-ups in Boston – a band of brothers and sisters

The terrible events of last week’s Boston bombings are still etched on everyone’s mind but it has to be said a lot of good people banded together in the moments, hours and days following the tragedy.

ReadWriteWeb wrote about how a group of Boston tech start-ups got together to gather funds for the One Fund, the charity to benefit victims and families of the bombings.

“When a problem is presented in front of Boston’s citizens, they will band together and solve it. This is not New York where people always seem to be going in their own directions, or San Francisco with its individualistic dreamers and doers. This is Boston, a place where challenges are presented, solutions are proffered and things get done together with a determination that few places on Earth can match.

“These attributes extend to the start-ups of Boston. Like no other tech enclave in the United States, Boston start-ups share a profound sense of community and togetherness. We talk a lot about start-up ‘communities’ when comparing the likes of San Francisco, New York, Boulder, Austin or Seattle, but many times it feels like a hollow word. This shared sense of comradeship is something that start-up enclaves are supposed to have – so they scream to the ether that they have it.

“Boston start-ups actually live it.”

Where the light of the internet has never shone

The Wall Street Journal carried an interesting Op-Ed from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who recently returned from a trip to North Korea where most of that country’s citizens have never seen a web page, used a computer or held a tablet or smartphone.

“Even the idea of the internet has not yet permeated the public’s consciousness in North Korea. When foreigners visit, the government stages internet browsing sessions by having ‘students’ look at pre-downloaded and pre-approved content, spending hours (as they did when we were there) scrolling up and down their screens in totalitarian unison. We ended up trying to describe the internet to North Koreans we met in terms of its values: free expression, freedom of assembly, critical thinking, meritocracy. These are uncomfortable ideas in a society where the ‘Respected Leader’ is supposedly the source of all information and where the penalty for defying him is the persecution of you and your family for three generations.”

Anti-CISPA web blackout

In a protest led by Anonymous, more than 200 websites in the US will suspend normal activities to vent their displeasure at the passing of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the US House of Representatives, The Next Web reported.

“Anonymous and other groups called for the blackout last week using the hashtags #CISPAblackout and #StopCISPA.

“While the action is meant to be a repeat of last year’s anti-SOPA blackout, which included participation from Wikipedia and Google, Monday’s CISPA protest appears to be mostly limited to the hacker and Anonymous circles. At present, no major mainstream websites appear on the list of participants.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years