Internet activist, programmer Aaron Swartz dead at 26

Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:14pm EST
 
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By Alex Dobuzinskis and P.J. Huffstutter

(Reuters) - Internet activist and computer prodigy Aaron Swartz, who helped create an early version of the Web feed system RSS and was facing federal criminal charges in a controversial fraud case, has committed suicide at age 26, authorities said on Saturday.

Police found Swartz's body in his apartment in the New York City borough of Brooklyn on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for the city's chief medical examiner, which ruled the death a suicide by hanging.

Swartz is widely credited with being a co-author of the specifications for the Web feed format RSS 1.0, which he worked on at age 14, according to a blog post on Saturday from his friend, science fiction author Cory Doctorow.

RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary, is a format for delivering to users content from sites that change constantly, such as news pages and blogs.

Over the years, he became an online icon for helping to make a virtual mountain of information freely available to the public, including an estimated 19 million pages of federal court documents from the PACER case-law system.

"Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves," Swartz wrote in an online "manifesto" dated 2008.

"The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. ... sharing isn't immoral — it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy," he wrote.

That belief - that information should be shared and available for the good of society - prompted Swartz to found the nonprofit group DemandProgress.   Continued...

 
Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008. REUTERS/Noah Berger