Bucking the System: The Netusian project

I’m fed up with it.

I love the net, and I love being a netizen. We’ve got access to basically all of the world’s knowledge, most of the people, and can even see out of the eyes of a growing distributed cyborganism; maps, remote sensors, massive datasets. And entertainment, w00t, there’s great stuff!

But, of all the evolving that the net is doing, there’s one path I’m hating; I’m hating the intrusion of geography, especially in the commercial sphere. There’s a lot of talk about the balkanization of the internet, especially in the American press, referring to the limits other countries (particularly China) are placing on their citizen’s internet access. However, my experience is that the US is one of the main creators of this geographical divide.

From where I sit, there are two classes of netizen emerging; people inside the US (first class citizens), and everyone else (second class citizens). As a netizen it really bugs me that I can’t touch things like Google Music, Google Voice, Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm, Amazon Android Market. As a developer playing in the social space, it’s even more irritating; it leaves me ignorant of technologies and services that I need to understand. Not to mention missing out on stuff like the cr-48 program!!!

In the past I’d sign up to things simply saying I came from the US. I’ve come from Beverly Hills, zip code 90210, a lot of times (hey, I don’t know any other zipcodes!). But that tends not to work these days. Nowadays there’s lots of checking my incoming IP address against geographic ranges, and/or using existing profile information in, for instance, my google account, to lock me out of things.

Why? Why would you bother to do this, people?? What’s so threatening about an Aussie using your stuff? Do we smell or something? (I know the actual answer, btw, it’s Regionalization in the service of Market Segmentation. Australians always get put over a barrel in the name of market segmentation. Marketing dudes, screw you.)

Anyway, I’m not content to be a second class citizen. It’s time to play a little harder.

After giving it a lot of thought, I’ve decided it’s time to create a sock puppet US based netizen identity, a Netusian (Netizen + US? get it? yeah I don’t need your approval, grrr).

My netusian’s codename is Buck System (credit: my darling wife!). Obviously this isn’t the real identity I’ll be using, because there is some amount of subterfuge necessary in doing this.

And subterfuge raises an important question: how far does this go, where is the line? Obviously creating a new identity is something that can venture into areas that are at least legally, what, questionable? What I’m trying to achieve is quite banal, quite minimal; I want to be able to use largely free online services that are only available to people in the US. Buck System isn’t trying to do international drug deals, he’s trying to maybe watch a bit of streaming TV.

So how do I create Buck? Here are my thoughts so far:

Firstly, I need a US IP Address. There are a few easy ways to do this, and they’re unsatisfactory.

  • You can use a free open proxy, route all your traffic through an unknown third party. Awesome way to set yourself up for really bad network performance and some hardcore man-in-the-middle action. No.
  • You can pay for a US based commercial proxy. I’ve used WiTopia in the past, it’s pretty good actually, but the problem is that they are visible and known for what they are doing. So, for instance, Hulu blocks (or at least used to block) WiTopia addresses. That said, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s not seriously technical, it’s a good option.

The way I think I’ll go is to get myself a US based linux (virtual) server and install some VPN software on it, then set myself up to connect to it and route all my traffic through it. Compared to Australian domestic internet prices, server traffic is practically free, so if I can get something with a fairly low setup and ongoing base cost, it’ll work well.

What I’m tempted to do is to make an Amazon EC2 based machine image to do this (VPN). The advantage to this is to only spin the environment up when I want to use it (which should be rarely), so it’ll be really cheap. If I do this, I’ll make the image available on request.

Probably I also want to keep my browser environment clean; cookies need to correspond to Buck’s identity and not conflict with my normal browsing. So, the best approach on my own machine is probably to run a virtual machine (using VirtualBox), running a clean copy of Ubuntu, and only act as Buck through that VM. I could also make that VM available to people.

The second piece of the puzzle is setting myself up a US based online identity. Now this isn’t for real fraud or identity theft or something else horrible, it’s to be able to use some online services. So there’s no need to go to town here; a minimal effort should suffice. I’m thinking Buck will need a google account, a facebook account, etc etc. He might need a little bit of posting history here and there, some online friends perhaps? How far should I go here? Some feedback on this aspect would be helpful, let me know what you think.

To conclude, I’ll just reiterate that I’m not trying to commit fraud here, I’m trying to do some victimless websurfing. I will probably be violating some Terms of Service agreements. Would this put me in legal peril? What are the legal issues if I make a false Google profile, or sign up for Hulu using that profile?

If the answers to those questions aren’t too damning, I’ll forge ahead, and I’ll blog here about my progress, and Buck’s progress. Stay tuned!

Bucking the System: The Netusian project

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