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ArcticStones
06-14-2005, 11:27 AM
Apple is daringly moving ahead into new waters. I think it may be worth reading about what Microsoft is up to (http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/033750F7-50A2-4811-BCF1-6444BD1D87F2.htm). I, for one, believe there is good reason to question the company’s choice of allies -- and Microsoft’s uncritical use of its filtering technology.

I do not, however, intend a political focus here. What I believe is worth debating here is the development and implementation of seemingly innocuous technology.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?

voldenuit
06-14-2005, 12:03 PM
It is indeed necessary to expose all companies that sell censorship-technology.

At least the bad PR in the free world may give them second thoughts even if something formerly known as moral responsability does not.

The overall trend of doing business with regimes openly violating human rights is particularly disgusting.

However, I am not exactly optimistic for this thread.

It seems that the mods here confuse political debate (which the charter discourages) and looking the other way as this thread clearly shows:

http://forums.macosxhints.com/showthread.php?t=40619

I can understand that political debate is discouraged as it normally doesn't further technical discussions and can easyily degenerate into flamewars.

I do however have a hard time to understand on what grounds this poor guy is being denied help when his right to inform himself freely is being denied.

That being enforced in a country such as China being one thing - the right of the chinese government to do so acknowledged by an american forum owned by a big publishing company is - well - surprising.

mclbruce
06-14-2005, 12:14 PM
I do however have a hard time to understand on what grounds this poor guy is being denied help when his right to inform himself freely is being denied. This forum does not exist to protect other people's right to inform themseves, assuming they have those rights.

That being enforced in a country such as China being one thing - the right of the chinese government to do so acknowledged by an american forum owned by a big publishing company is - well - surprising. That is a cheap shot. You've been around here long enough to know that the policy existed before "a big publishing company" got involved.

fat elvis
06-14-2005, 12:19 PM
well let's burn Google (http://www.sethf.com/anticensorware/general/google-censorship.php) at the stake while were at it!

To think that people in the states are receiving unfiltered, uncensored news is just ignorant. Many, many stories are squashed before they reach the masses.

ArcticStones
06-14-2005, 12:32 PM
...I am not exactly optimistic for this thread.
I can understand that political debate is discouraged...

To think that people in the states are receiving unfiltered, uncensored news is just ignorant. Many, many stories are squashed before they reach the masses.

Please note: I did NOT start this thread to discuss the morality of censorship of authoritarian regimes. Let us avoid that. I wish to respect this Websites policy forbidding political discussions -- and I humbly ask that those who partake in the thread do so as well.

However, I believe it is appropriate (and permissible on MacOSXHints!) to discuss is the development and implementation of filtering technology that can be used for censorship. That is a technological issue, not a political one.

Please also note: I have no reason whatsoever to question the integrity of the moderators or the publisher of this forum. I do not believe that there is any ulterior motive to the current policy of this site.

Please -- let us stay on track with a narrow nonpolitical discussion. Otherwise this thread will quickly be closed.

With best regards,
ArcticStones

Phil St. Romain
06-14-2005, 12:34 PM
volenuit, I think your axe is sharp enough; no use to grind it further. ;)

ArcticStones: What I believe is worth debating here is the development and implementation of seemingly innocuous technology.

OK, have at it, but let's steer clear of a debate on politics.

fat elvis
06-14-2005, 12:53 PM
hmmm, well aside from more MS bashing I don't see where this thread is going.

Here's a site that may provide more insight: CDT (http://www.cdt.org/)

CAlvarez
06-14-2005, 01:02 PM
Let's bring it home...Utah has passed a law requiring all ISPs in the state to provide filtering against a list of unnaproved sites which the state is going to publish.

Now...who is going to write the software for that? What are the logistics for a national ISP? What if your address is in Utah, but you are elsewhere, or are a user from another state traveling through Utah?

ArcticStones
06-14-2005, 01:25 PM
Thanks for bringing to my attention Seth Finkelstein’s article on censorship/influence of Google search results. The cdt.org website is also interesting; I’ve visited it before.

I am a little surprised that no one has commented the source of the article that I linked to. Hmmm, it was not reported on FoxNews, CNN.com, BBC.co.uk or in the New York Times. No, the article appeared on on Al Jazeera’s English-language website! (FatElvis, you may have a point.)

Now why would that be so?

When it comes to Al Jazeera, it is far more objective than often credited in the West. The technology/science articles are regularly fascinating. It is interesting that "someone" has even gone to the great length of publishing a false website (aljazeera.com) -- not to be confused with the real one (http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage).

Carlos, I was not aware of the Utah legislation. I thought efforts tended to be less overt, not so visibly orwellian. The follow-up questions you pose really bring the issue home. And those are certainly relevant questions for this forum --- are they not?

With best regards,
ArcticStones

CAlvarez
06-14-2005, 01:41 PM
Reference link for the Utah issue:

http://news.com.com/2104-1030_3-5738964.html

ArcticStones
06-14-2005, 01:49 PM
Reference link for the Utah issue:
http://news.com.com/2104-1030_3-5738964.html

I’m curious: do you have a link to the exact wording of the legislation itself?

Are you aware of any specific company working on the technology required for this?

mclbruce
06-14-2005, 05:27 PM
Here's a use of data mining technology that is somewhat relevant: to determine what the market will bear in terms of prices. One goal of a business is to sell their goods for the highest possible value. Internet technology is making it possible to customize prices to each individual.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/914691.stm

It seems like tracking software used by Amazon and other retailers could be modified to filter sites. And has been already mentioned, Google would be another possible choice. I also think that Microsoft is not a leader in this area of technology by any means, but a follower. Is that last sentence a surprise to read on a Mac related forum? :-)

ArcticStones
06-14-2005, 05:50 PM
Here's a use of data mining technology that is somewhat relevant: to determine what the market will bear in terms of prices...

Great article! I wonder what the true story is as far as Amazon goes. They wouldn’t dare admit this, were it true.

* * *

I subscribe to the local newspaper. Whenever my subscription period draws to its end, and they have "a great offer for new subscribers", I cancel my subscription. Then I make a second phone call to start a new subscription for a different member of our household. Been doing that for years.

A few months ago I called the man who was in charge of marketing their subscriptions. Told him exactly what I did and why. He was astonished, but had no good explanation of why they couldn’t reward loyal readers instead of punishing them. (As long as they don’t change their policies, neither will I.)

* * *

Working with advertising I feel there is a compelling need to revise some time-honoured campaign strategies. Fact of the matter is, that it’s often far easier to sell "a little bit more" to existing customers and already attentive target groups, than to convert entirely new customers. It’s far more cost effective, too.


Best regards,
ArcticStones

yellow
06-14-2005, 06:03 PM
I think it can be summed up in 4 words: Anything for a dollar.

fat elvis
06-14-2005, 06:22 PM
I wonder if muni-wifi could *eventually* lead to an ISP free system. If the whole world were covered in 192.168.XXX.XXX then we could all communicate sans-censorship (?) or perhaps P2P will grow into something strong enough to avoid the telecoms. I dunno, but I do wish we had an uncensored place where we can anonymously share whatever we feel like with whomever we wish.

mmmmm....anonymous data transfer

I don't see ISPs ever growing large enough to tell governments "no". Right now they're basically in the same position as librarians (http://www.counterpunch.com/price03062003.html)...do what we say or face the wrath. Unfortunately the companies that seize this opportunity will no doubt receive backlash from privacy zealots.

CAlvarez
06-14-2005, 08:45 PM
By the time that happens, we'll have IPv6. You'll be assigned an IP address at birth, use it for all identification and wherever you go, and there will be no anonymity. Seriously though, ubiquitous wi-fi will come along about the time v6 is getting into swing, and the old paradigms will no longer apply.

Speaking of China, censorship, and evil companies... Have we forgotten what Symantec did to the Chinese people? Their spyware/virus remover identifies the software which Chinese people can use to bypass the censorship proxies as "spyware" and removes it. This was part of the deal with the Chinese government to allow Symantec a basically exclusive market. The software to bypass censorship is not spyware, but Symantec effectively set aside technical/ethical considerations in exchange for a large market advantage.

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 01:32 AM
Have we forgotten what Symantec did to the Chinese people? Their spyware/virus remover identifies the software which Chinese people can use to bypass the censorship proxies as "spyware" and removes it. This was part of the deal with the Chinese government to allow Symantec a basically exclusive market. The software to bypass censorship is not spyware, but Symantec effectively set aside technical/ethical considerations in exchange for a large market advantage.

I am really shocked!
Never saw this mentioned in Newsweek, FoxNews or CNN either. Or did I just miss it? If you have the links, I would love to read more. This deserves to be more widely known.

It’s been a long time since I uninstalled my Symantec software. But regardless of what they may introduce in the future, I shall never again purchase a Symantec product.

Best regards,
ArcticStones


PS. Other than this novel "Chinese twist", did Symantec ever offer truly effective anti-adware/spyware software? I was not aware they did. What is the best such application for Mac?

mclbruce
06-15-2005, 01:58 AM
Great article! I wonder what the true story is as far as Amazon goes. They wouldn’t dare admit this, were it true. If you have two or three web browsers you can try this for yourself at Amazon or wherever you want. Delete the relevant cookies, or all cookies, on one browser and do a little comparison shopping.

I have a relationship with a sales rep at one of the big mail order companies. He can give his clients different prices on their web pages no problem. This is done with the client's cooperation, giving them a user ID and login password to the company's web site. For example I bought a cell phone to Plantronics headset adaptor from these people over the web and paid $2.94. When I go to another web browser (on the same computer) that doesn't have my login ID stored in a cookie the price shows up as $9.46! We had a good laugh about me placing an order for under three bucks. But even still he says if I order something big I should call him, he may be able to get me a better price than is listed on my web page. Of course I have sent him a lot of business in the last six months.

The moral of the story here is not to take those prices you see in your web browser for granted.

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 02:34 AM
The moral of the story here is not to take those prices you see in your web browser for granted.

Does anyone know if there is a software/hardware provider with a similar practice? Or a retailer of digital camera equipment, scanners etc.

If this can be documented, I would very much like to write an article on this issue in a magazine for graphic designers that I edit.

With best regards,
ArcticStones

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 02:46 AM
By the time that happens, we'll have IPv6. You'll be assigned an IP address at birth, use it for all identification and wherever you go, and there will be no anonymity.

Anonymity is probably already more of an illusion than we think. More and more of our lives is being stored in digital form, linked in one way or another to unique identifiers. I would think that there is already a special surveillance focus on those who merely strive for anonymity. For is that not, in and of itself, due reason for suspicion?

I am sure that sophisticated applications (present or future) for behavior pattern recognition will provide shockingly effective means of manipulation and control -- far beyond our current conceptions.

And we won’t have to go to China...

With best regards,
ArcticStones

voldenuit
06-15-2005, 09:47 AM
Thanks for the info, Carlos:Speaking of China, censorship, and evil companies... Have we forgotten what Symantec did to the Chinese people? Their spyware/virus remover identifies the software which Chinese people can use to bypass the censorship proxies as "spyware" and removes it. This was part of the deal with the Chinese government to allow Symantec a basically exclusive market. The software to bypass censorship is not spyware, but Symantec effectively set aside technical/ethical considerations in exchange for a large market advantage.Googling
symantec china government
produces good hits on the first result page.
It is indeed most shocking what is going on here.
If Symantech was not on the no-fly-list of every Mac-user in his right mind anyway because their products for OS X cause more problems than they solve, that would be one single reason to no longer do business with them.

The Financial Times ran an article, full quoted here (FT requires a login):

http://lists.grok.org.uk/pipermail/full-disclosure/2004-September/026459.html

kawliga
06-15-2005, 10:27 AM
The fourth Google link is this:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/09/16/symantec_relabels_freegate/

Which says Symantec retought their policy a few weeks later and removed Freegate from their malware definitions. Whether to quell a bad publicity blow up or as a revision of an honest mistake, I cannot say.

voldenuit
06-15-2005, 10:48 AM
The freegate site
http://www.dit-inc.us/news.htm
seems to caution the "honest mistake"-option.
Whether those are good manners and a way to save Symantecs face or the result of whatever else remains indeed left as an exercise to the reader.

It is however highly unlikely that the mistake would have been corrected without the liberty to write about it and Symantec caring for their image.

CAlvarez
06-15-2005, 02:07 PM
What is the best such application for Mac?
OS X. There is no spyware that runs on X.

The Symantec products are horrible on Windows too, where they actually do something, but don't do it well. I've said it before...I've billed a LOT of time due to Symantec AV failures or damaged caused by the product itself.

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 02:26 PM
OS X. There is no spyware that runs on X.

Carlos: Thanks for this most comforting clarification.
Voldenuit, Kawliga & Carlos: I read all the articles you linked to. They were real eye-openers. :eek: Thanks!

It is indeed fascinating to see a major international player in its field (Symantec) turn around and admit "a technical mistake" -- and more importantly, back down and "correct it".

The technical aspects of limiting/censoring Internet access, narrowing/skewing search results on Google and similar search sites (as FatElvis pointed out), and that of adware/spyware are very interesting and deserve far more attention.

I’m grateful that we are able to discuss this thoroughly here, and bring forth enlightening examples, while avoiding any inappropriate political discussion.

Thanks so far, everyone! :)


With best regards,
ArcticStones

seagull
06-15-2005, 04:03 PM
Hi,
Interesting thread, good to see that this has not turned in to the typical flamewar you usually see in forums when the topic brushes on highly political issues.

Being an engineer myself I have sometimes wondered, especially after reading articles such as referenced in this thread, dealing with technical means to limit free speech and anonymity, what my reaction would be if the company where I am employed assigned me to develop just such a technology. Would I stand up, hold on to my principles (and get fired :o ). Would I think: "Well, if I quit my job, someone else is going to do it". Or even worse, would I react at all.

What are the engineers at Microsoft and Symantec (the ones mentioned here, I guess most companies have skeletons in their closet) thinking when assigned to such projects? Do they consider the consequences of their work?

I guess my point is that even if you may criticize large companies for developing technology that limits the way we communicate and access information, there are still the matter of idividual integrity of the developers of such technology. I'll bet a lot of members of this forums are in my position, beeing employed by relatively large companies, some of which may be responsible for this development. Where do you draw the line? Is the notion of "stand up for what is right" worth the possibility of loosing the monthly paycheck?

-seagull

Twelve Motion
06-15-2005, 04:06 PM
Very interesting stuff here.

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 04:20 PM
Seagull, quite some years ago, I was editorial secretary of a couple of magazines. At one point I was ordered to sell advertisements for one of them. The problem was that it had by then become clear that the circulation figures quoted to potential advertisers were bloated; so bloated that it was close to being a swindle.

I refused. Two weeks later I lost my job, with artificial reasons cited. (Well, I had already drafted my resignation.)

This happened less than a month after my daughter was born. I had no other job to go to. In fact, at that time the market was difficult -- and it took me three months to find a job.

But it would have been a higher price to look in the mirror each day, if I knew that I had chosen to live a lie.


With best regards,
ArcticStones

bramley
06-15-2005, 04:40 PM
Here's a use of data mining technology that is somewhat relevant: to determine what the market will bear in terms of prices. One goal of a business is to sell their goods for the highest possible value. Internet technology is making it possible to customize prices to each individual.


Given that the US Senate has passed this:

The other bill passed Monday, the Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (SPY Act), also toughens penalties on spyware purveyors but goes much further than the I-SPY Act by imposing an opt-in, notice and consent regime for legal software that collects personally identifiable information from consumers. (from an internetnews.com article here. (http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article.php/3507211))

couldn't it be argued that Amazon's (and others) behaviour is not just immoral, but now illegal as personal data is obtained via the cookies without consent i.e cookies are being used as spyware.

hayne
06-15-2005, 05:03 PM
couldn't it be argued that Amazon's (and others) behaviour is not just immoral, but now illegal as personal data is obtained via the cookies without consent i.e cookies are being used as spyware.

I think this is way off. Or maybe you aren't understanding what cookies are used for (by Amazon and other retailing sites).
There is typically no info per-se in the cookies except for customer identification. The info about what you have purchased is in Amazon's databases. The cookie merely allows them to know who you are without the need for you to login. Thus there is no personal data being obtained - Amazon already has your personal data if you have been a customer of theirs previously.

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 05:10 PM
One of the top stories on Dagbladet.no (Norway’s second largest Internett newspaper) is about Microsoft.

The story reports that Microsoft has removed the words "democracy" and "freedom" from their Chinese Web portal. If users attempt to write these words in MSN Spaces, they receive the following error message: "This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item". (The same also applies to "democratic party", "independent Taiwan" or "demonstration".)

The article quotes Microsoft’s company guidelines "forbidding the posting of content that is in conflict with local or national law".

I assume the technology required for Microsoft to comply with Chinese law is fairly simple, and that this did not demand particularly much time of those Microsoft employees who implemented the filter.

But it is duly noted that Microsoft’s choice is (at least partly) receiving appropriate press coverage.

Best regards,
ArcticStones

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 05:20 PM
...couldn't it be argued that Amazon's (and others) behaviour is not just immoral, but now illegal as personal data is obtained via the cookies without consent i.e cookies are being used as spyware.

I believe Hayne is right. The personal information stored by Amazon (and others) is usually gained with the consent of the customer. Just like I have consented to the use of cookies here on MacOSXHints. These are coupled with the information that I have chosen to provide.

All very legit.

But would it be legitimate for a record store to offer two customers different prices, based merely on how many times they have walked through the door? And should the frequent customer be penalised?! The use of data mining technology to differentiate price offers, raises very serious questions, indeed. One of these is whether such a practice should be legal.

I would be very interested in hearing if anyone can quote a specific law that such a practice transgresses.

With best regards,
ArcticStones

voldenuit
06-15-2005, 05:38 PM
Not only the dagbladet, also the Financial Times has an article about that, most appropriately syndicated by Microsofts very own msn last friday:

http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/printarticle.asp?Feed=FT&Date=20050610&ID=4884671

and got slashdotted:

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/06/11/1946230

It is remarkable that it slipped through...

ArcticStones
06-15-2005, 05:43 PM
…most appropriately syndicated by Microsofts very own msn last friday. …It is remarkable that it slipped through...

Absolutely brilliant! There are anonymous people out there that deserve a standing ovation. Well, if he/she reads this, please know that I’m grinning for ear to ear in deep appreciation.

:D

ArcticStones
06-16-2005, 10:51 AM
In his regular tech column in the New York Times (nytimes.com), well-known author David Pogue finds it worthwhile to focus on Microsoft/China.

"Pogue’s Posts" (http://www.nytimes.com/technology/poguesposts/index.html) requires that you’re a registered user (free).

CAlvarez
06-16-2005, 11:22 AM
Where do you draw the line? Is the notion of "stand up for what is right" worth the possibility of loosing the monthly paycheck?
It's a good question. I've had to face something similar, and refused to lie. I wasn't fired over it, but given a lot of harrasment. I was too valuable to the company in other ways, but the owner held a personal grudge over this. He was a scumbag in general, which I eventually figured out, and left the company.

The question gets more complicated with things like the Chinese laws. We think, under our standards, that they are wrong. But it is the current law of a country which we don't fully understand, and who are we to judge them and enforce OUR view of morality on them? It's a double-edged sword.

I was born in a communist dictatorship myself (Cuba). While I firmly believe in the founding principles of this country, I see the double edge of trying to enforce that view upon another country. Those very principles say that the other country has a right to be what they want to be.

bramley
06-16-2005, 11:50 AM
I think this is way off.

If it is illegal for code to execute on a machine, without knowledge or consent, that retrieves "personally identifiable information from consumers," because it may be used to financially disadvantage them (amongst other things), then it must (or should) also be illegal to retrieve information from a consumer's machine that identifies the consumer so that information entered purely to complete a previous purchase is used, without knowledge or consent, to financially disadvantage them.

Clearly, there are technical differences in how the information is obtained - but since that information is used to achieve the same purpose, the differences are surely academic.

The personal information stored by Amazon (and others) is usually gained with the consent of the customer.

I suppose that's the nub, isn't it? Certainly from a UK perspective, consent has not been given, as the Data Protection Act states that the purposes for which data is to be used must be explictly stated. I understand there is no US equivalent, which might explain the contrasting privacy policies of the US and UK Amazon sites (the only sites I checked.)

ArcticStones
06-16-2005, 04:52 PM
...the Data Protection Act states that the purposes for which data is to be used must be explictly stated. I understand there is no US equivalent, which might explain the contrasting privacy policies of the US and UK Amazon sites (the only sites I checked.)

About 15 years ago, I received a letter from the Postal Bank requesting my Identity No. (= social security number). That info was not mandatory when the account was opened. In their letter the Postal Bank stated that they were required to have that information for their reports to the Tax Authorities.

Naturally, I sent them a letter back :) . I requested their confirmation that this information would be used only for that purpose; and specifically that my Identity No. would never be used by an external party as a search key.

I never did receive a response. :rolleyes:

* * *

By and large, Norway has very strict laws regulating personal information stored in databases. In fact far stricter than corresponding law in the European Union.

* * *

A few months ago, I downloaded a copy of the so-called Patriot Act. I must confess that I was utterly astonished that such an stew of judicial texts, with profound implications on IT and technological aspects of society, could be politically approved -- as far as I know with only a dissenting vote. (Never mind the fact that no one had time to read, let alone study it, before it was enacted.)

The real issue that I want to point out is this: There is an awful lot of legislation being enacted on both sides of the Atlantic that can be grossly misused. And some of this legislation directly concerns the Internet, digital storage of personal information, and other technical aspects of our right to live a free life.

This is happening internationally, and it is highly systematic.
And that is reason for grave concern.

With best regards,
ArcticStoned

mclbruce
06-16-2005, 06:57 PM
I do not, however, intend a political focus here. Hmmm. Sounds pretty darn political to me.

fat elvis
06-16-2005, 07:04 PM
yikes...someone say Patiot Act??? this thread could go on for ever, and ever

voldenuit
06-16-2005, 09:04 PM
This thread has been extremely interesting so far.

There seems to be a major misunderstanding about what exactly "political" is.

Some seem to reduce it to the discussion about controversial political points of view. That may indeed lead to discussions about as useful as fanatics of different (operating system)-religions bickering and end with the invocation of Godwins law a few postings down the road.

I think the discussion on subjects such as those in this thread is extremely important inside a community with lots of people who have a deeper understanding than Joe Sixpack about technology.

And I think that keeping it civil and respecting diverging standpoints is about the only thing it needs to continue to be interesting.

vancenase
06-16-2005, 09:14 PM
anyone want a Newcastle (http://www.newcastlebrown.com/) ? i've got 8 left ...

ArcticStones
06-17-2005, 12:23 AM
I mentioned the Patriot Act because of the technological provisions it contains -- aspects which are relevant for this forum, and which are not in and of themselves political. It is a rather voluminous act!

If the very mention of this Act is politically questionable, then I apologise. I really am trying my best to tread a fine and narrow path. :)

With best regards,
ArcticStones

maclova
06-17-2005, 01:27 PM
Apple is daringly moving ahead into new waters. I think it may be worth reading about what Microsoft is up to (http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/033750F7-50A2-4811-BCF1-6444BD1D87F2.htm). I, for one, believe there is good reason to question the company’s choice of allies -- and Microsoft’s uncritical use of its filtering technology.

I do not, however, intend a political focus here. What I believe is worth debating here is the development and implementation of seemingly innocuous technology.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?
That's horrible, and to think the Chinese people let themselves suffer under such circumstances :(

...but they do make great food :p :D

hitsuzen
06-17-2005, 07:44 PM
Microsoft like many others, want a piece of the big China pie.
Now that's not going to happen if 90% of the population uses
a pirated copy of windows xp and office.

What better way to enforce a crackdown on software piracy
then to enlist the help of the Chinese government who
has a "superb" human rights record.

Besides, doing busines in a foreign country require that you
ahere to the local rules & regulation as well as the local customs.
The government is a potential customer, you don't really want to
get on their "b" list.

I'm not taking anyone's side, just an observation ;)

hayne
06-17-2005, 10:06 PM
Microsoft like many others, want a piece of the big China pie

Mmm... China pie

ArcticStones
06-18-2005, 12:27 AM
Mmm... China pie

Hayne, an innocent digression:

A few years ago, one of my clients called me at 11 pm on a Friday night. Meekly they asked if I could do an urgent translation.

"When do you need it by?"
"9 am tomorrow morning," was the hoarse, almost whispered, reply.
Long silence (mine). "Well, send it over and I’ll have a look at it."
Sent. Received. Looked at. Cursing myself for even considering giving up Friday night’s well-deserved sleep. Five minutes later:
"But what you’re asking for on such short notice is more than three days work! It cannot be done."
Long silence (theirs). "But, you see, we told the Chinese lady that we had already written the document in English as well. And we’ve promised to deliver it to her hotel by the time she eats breakfast. You see, we’re hoping for a joint venture with her company. She’s one of the wealthiest expatriates investing in her home country -- where we need a strong partner with local knowledge to advance our software."

It was a long night, trying to do as much of Mission Impossible as possible, with irresponsibly close to zero time for QA. With more coffee than I usually drink in a week (as close as I get to that longed-for amphetamine on occasions like this), I pulled it off -- and delivered at least some semblance of a full-fledged document just in time for my client’s CEO to print it out.

All because my client imagined that, sometime in the future, they would be eating Chinese pie. With a Chinese billionaire.

...who in the end decided that she didn’t want any Norwegian pie. :o Not knowing the culture, my customer somehow managed, a few weeks later, to step on their would-be breakfast partner’s well-pedicured Chinese toes.


It’s all about the pie, isn’t it? ;) :D

voldenuit
06-18-2005, 01:25 AM
The question gets more complicated with things like the Chinese laws. We think, under our standards, that they are wrong. But it is the current law of a country which we don't fully understand, and who are we to judge them and enforce OUR view of morality on them? It's a double-edged sword.

I was born in a communist dictatorship myself (Cuba). While I firmly believe in the founding principles of this country, I see the double edge of trying to enforce that view upon another country. Those very principles say that the other country has a right to be what they want to be.
It sounds like we would want to encourage a holy-cow-chainsaw-massacre in Bombay or something.

Respecting cultural differences is all fine and well, but I believe that firmly encouraging some respect for fundamentals such as
La Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen (1789), or the UN-version from 1948
http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng.htm
will take us a long way towards a better tomorrow.

I'm quite sure that not many in this thread would oppose that text adopted by an overwhelming majority (including China) shortly after the end of the war.

Phil St. Romain
06-18-2005, 10:22 AM
It sounds like we would want to encourage a holy-cow-chainsaw-massacre in Bombay or something. . .

That doesn't follow the point you were responding to, voldenuit; actually, it's a straw man fallacy.

I think the bottom line is that making human rights the basis of business arrangements is indeed a two-edged sword, and for a variety of reasons. I'm all for it, if possible, but the consequence is sometimes shooting oneself in the foot and opening the door to something worse. It's quite possible that if MS gets their foot in the door, here, they can eventually become an influence for an overall better situation. That's good! OTOH, they risk becoming part of the problem through dynamics of enabling injustice.

It's a complicated world, folks, and relationships between governments and large businesses don't always track along the same principles as we cherish for our personal ethics. Values like "greater good" and "progress" do sometimes call for certain compromises that we would find detestable in our individual dealings. That's the way it goes, I'm afraid.

ArcticStones
06-18-2005, 11:23 AM
I think the bottom line is that making human rights the basis of business arrangements is indeed a two-edged sword, and for a variety of reasons.

...It's quite possible that if MS gets their foot in the door, here, they can eventually become an influence for an overall better situation. That's good!

It's a complicated world, folks...


Phil,
I think you have some very valid points. It is, indeed, a complicated world and human rights / business arrangements can be a two-edged sword.

The crux of the matter here is a company’s actual intentions and their corporate morality. Certainly any questions/discussions of Human Rights (capitalization intended) must be approached with humility -- not least of all cultural humility. All too often we see an insistance on human rights coupled with a woeful degree of cultural chauvinism and insensitivity.

It is vital, on the other hand, to avoid a misguided relativism that absolves individuals and corporations of moral responsibility. We all make choices every day. And so did the individuals who did the actual programming for Microsoft.

I pray you’re right about Microsoft; but I fear that you are not. Time will tell.

Again, not to be political (and forgive me if you believe I am), but from the view of some other countries, the "right to work" is a basic human right. In this perspective the USA and much of Europe would be in gross violation. We Westerners don’t necessarily see it that way. Generally we do not include the "right to work" as a basic human right.
Quite the contrary. from "our" perspective, of course, it would be argued that a certain degree of unemployment is almost essential to well-functioning capitalism. However, some might say that it is a question of degree... (At least that’s the consensus Norwegian viewpoint; our unemployment level is approx. 3 %.)

And that’s only one example of valid differences in cultural perceptions of human rights.

In regards to the Chinese Internet users, the way that I understand it is this: It is not so much civil libertarians of the West "imposing" their understanding of human rights upon the Chinese. It is a question of individuals and corporations not choosing to actively hinder the aspirations and desires of the Chinese themselves.

For whatever reasons, we can agree that Microsoft made a different choice. And they are not the only ones. Carlos brought to our attention the seemingly far worse transgression of Symantec. But as CAlvarez has also pointed out, there are alarming things happening far closer to home (re: the Utah legislation).


With best regards,
ArcticStones


PS. I would like to get back to some other technical questions in a later post. :)

voldenuit
06-18-2005, 11:32 AM
I am not naive enough to believe that neither business nor politics go without a fair amount of not-so-pretty horse-trading behind closed doors. And in some cases the overall result may indeed be positive.

We should probably not debate how optimistic we are about Microsofts ethical standards, I think a fair amount of their business practice is to be read in court briefings and everybody is free to form his own opinion on the issue.

I am not naive enough neither to ignore that the principles of the UN-declaration are being trodden upon on a daily basis all over in the civilised world.

But the fact that it has been nearly universally adopted (China interestingly was part of the original set of countries to ratify it) tells me that there is no such thing as a cultural excection that could reasonably be claimed to justify a governement to keep its people from informing themselves freely.

And whatever corporation helps to take fundamental rights away from people will have to live with the PR-damage it does to them.
It will take a fair amount of spin-doctoring to explain why exactly putting up error messages when someone tries to blog about democracy is indeed a Good Thing.

CAlvarez
06-18-2005, 01:52 PM
This is a great discussion of things that are political, but from such a high viewpoint that there are no real arguments.

Back to the technology, the Patriot Act is another great example of legislation that forces technology to be put into place which could be dangerous, and isn't yet tested, proven, thought through, or in many cases, doesn't yet exist. Allowing legislation or executive fiat (in the case of rules the FBI and others can now make without review or oversight, pursuant to the Patriot Act) to dictate the progress of technology is a major problem, I think. For one, the people doing the legislating/ruling are clueless on technology. Secondly, technology generally follows a natural flow where the overall impact, pitfalls, and issues are accounted for. This is the reason for open source in particular. When legislation mandates accelerating the technology, it gets put into place before any of the checks and balances can be done. It's worse when the Patriot Act makes it illegal to even discuss much of it. The PA makes it illegal to discuss the PA, by the way, and at least one person has already gone to jail because of criticism of the PA. So how long until someone discovers weaknesses in PA-mandated technology, talks about them, and is arrested as a terrorist?

Right now, three airlines are collecting birthdates as part of the flight process in order to carry out a more thorough background check. I know, because it happened to me on a recent flight. Ironically, I read about it on the plane just after it happened. Nobody can answer or even discuss what checks are in place to assure this data is not misused (I argue that having it at all is misuse, but that's another subject), lost/stolen, etc. This is an example of an unreviewed, unchecked mandate by Homeland Security pursuant to the PA, which is driving technology ahead of any checks and balances.

Phil St. Romain
06-18-2005, 03:05 PM
Re. "right to work," unemployement in the U.S. is around 5.5%, and that includes a number of people who are between jobs. That's pretty low, actually. I don't see the relevance to "What MS is up to," however, except that it expands the topic into areas far beyond the focus of this thread.

Let's turn the question around, here. What do you guys think MS should do? Insist that the Chinese government lift all restrictions on human rights--at least re the Internet--before MS provides services to them? Make it a contingency to the agreement? Suppose MS does so, but the Chinese then tell them to get lost. MS gets no business, no chance to influence change, and the human rights violations continue. Who wins that one?

- Let's stay off the Patriot Act. I don't see the relevance to this topic unless you all are wanting to discuss how technology and politics interact. That's waaay too broad for this thread, however. Focusing on it in this narrower sense can probably help to clarify some things.

CAlvarez
06-18-2005, 03:57 PM
Well, Patriot Act *could* be a loaded gun, but I think it can be discussed rationally as it applies to technology. I see it no differently from the Chinese/MS situation. PA tells companies they must employ technology to achieve government goals, many of which are controversial, secret, and offensive to some people. Many people agree with it, but many people also agree with the Chinese government position.

I like your question of what MS should do here. If they tell the Chinese government to pound sand, they simply won't be able to do business there.

NovaScotian
06-18-2005, 04:25 PM
Without mentioning why, then, to follow on CAlvarez's comment:
Right now, three airlines are collecting birthdates as part of the flight process in order to carry out a more thorough background check. I know, because it happened to me on a recent flight. Ironically, I read about it on the plane just after it happened.
I might add that right now, the US is "strongly suggesting" that all data for Canadians on domestic flights that cross the US Border be sent in to Home Security before the flight takes off. It turns out that that's a lot of flights since about 90% of all Canadians live within 80 miles of the border with the US and much of eastern Canada is south of all of western Canada.

The Airlines are not happy - remaining on the Canadian side of the border would increase distances and fares - and Canadians in general are not happy that the US should be collecting personal info on them simply because they will pass over a few northern states 6 miles up.

But, if the US insists, then those are the rules of engagement. Canadians will consider it a gross violation of their privacy that a foreign country knows who they are, their curriculum vitae, and their travel agenda. If MS wants to do business in China, it plays by China's rules or says no to a huge market. If Canadian Airlines want to avoid a rush to the train service, they'll have to figure out how to deal with the border, as a minimum announcing that a particular flight is crossing the US border so customers that object can hop across the country on regionals that don't cross the border.

It's a mad world, but we do have to obey each other's sovereignty.

ArcticStones
06-18-2005, 06:08 PM
The original question I raised was:

What I believe is worth debating here is the development and implementation of seemingly innocuous technology. Anyone else have thoughts on this?

The issue of Microsoft in China is one (of many) interesting examples of this. Phil’s point of asking what each of us would choose for Microsoft in China, is well taken. Indeed, what would you and I do?

I would strive for a path which was neither acquiescence to Chinese government requests, nor an outright defiance of them. This requires a masterful balancing act, but it is not impossible.

As an individual programmer given the task, I would let my choice be dictated by conscience. A company’s ethics and morality cannot be better than that of its employes; they mercilessly reflect each other!

One person can make a difference. A news image comes to mind: The single Chinese man with the shopping bag who refused to budge before the onward moving tanks. That is one of the most potent images I have ever seen!

There are highly elegant, yet perhaps less direct ways, to be an obstacle to injustice...


With best regards,
ArcticStones

Phil St. Romain
06-20-2005, 09:11 AM
As an individual programmer given the task, I would let my choice be dictated by conscience. A company’s ethics and morality cannot be better than that of its employes; they mercilessly reflect each other!

I admire this kind of idealism and spunk, Arctic, but MS would simply replace you if you bucked the system. So would Apple. ;)

In a way, you have a kind of "censorship" going on even in countries we consider open to freedom of speech. Lots of companies block certain web sites, for example, and even hire tech people to monitor what their employees are doing on the net. If you consider China something of a giant company, then what MS is doing for them something analagous to what tech people do every day in companies all over the U.S. and other "free" countries. If you as an employee of such a company disagree with its policy and relax the restrictions, you'll be a goner. That's the way it goes. Companies have a right to decide what information they'll make available to their employees, and "China, Inc." is doing this.

There are highly elegant, yet perhaps less direct ways, to be an obstacle to injustice...

Injustice implies denying or abusing certain rights. Is it an injustice if a company restricts access to certain web sites? I don't think so, as there is no real "right" to look at web sites unrestrictedly during company time.

Apparently, the Chinese government believes much the same about the rights of its citizenry. I don't like it, for sure, but you can see that the "right" to view web sites without restriction isn't exactly the same as the right to life, or medical care, or a fair trial, etc.

You could reflect on the Patriot Act in much the same way. Given the new kind of threat that terrorism presents, how does this affect our understanding of "rights to privacy?" If giving up some of these rights helps to prevent terrorist attacks without violating more core civil liberties, then why not? I'm willing to allow the government to know more about me if it helps to bust Al Qaeda cells. The Patriot Act has, in fact, been helpful unto that end.

Defining the kinds of "rights" people have in a culture involves much more than reading some kind of document or charter and screaming "foul" when the reality doesn't match up. There are practical contexts to be considered, and possible consequences to be weighed.

voldenuit
06-20-2005, 09:39 AM
Well, had it not been you posting, I'd have expected the author of that contribution to be found guilty of "heating the debate".

1
Would you seriously want to affirm that "they'll have someone do it anyway" is a moral standpoint to be encouraged ?
There may be cases where it is more efficient to resist from the inside.
Even soldiers get condemned for crimes of war for obeying orders if those orders were illegal.

2
To compare countries and companies doesn't fly.
Not only is getting out of dictatorships generally a lot more difficult than to pick a company you feel comfortable to work in.
And you are indeed not paid to surf the web in general. You are however entirely free to do so in your own free time.

3
The really scary thing is, that I think you honestly believe what you write.
A lot of governments are doing a lot of extremely Bad Things on a regular basis.
No longer seeing this as a menace to our freedom is just one more step towards a police state even you will not like.

4
The PA, how it was sneaked through congress, how Ashcroft went way beyond what was authorised and how a lot of its provisions are not only inefficient but counterproductive is a large field for discussion indeed.

http://www.publicinterestpictures.org/unconstitutional/

could be an interesting starting point for a debate.

5
Even though last time I quoted Benjamin Franklin, that got the thread closed, I will do so again anyway, because it's a perfect fit:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Giving up the liberty people have been fighting for for centuries because of terrorism is just declaring the terrorists the winners.

Phil St. Romain
06-20-2005, 10:34 AM
The PA, how it was sneaked through congress, how Ashcroft went way beyond what was authorised and how a lot of its provisions are not only inefficient but counterproductive is a large field for discussion indeed.

http://www.publicinterestpictures.org/unconstitutional/

could be an interesting starting point for a debate.

Congress can change or even repeal the Act, so deciding what appropriate rights are within the present context of terrorism-prevention is an ongoing discernment.

Well, had it not been you posting, I'd have expected the author of that contribution to be found guilty of "heating the debate".

ArcticStone and I had a couple of PM exchanges and I agreed that it seemed appropriate to expand the original topic to explore the interfacings between politics and technology, provided the discussion doesn't deteriorate into an excuse for bashing countries or politicians. Careful, voldenuit . . . ;)

To compare countries and companies doesn't fly.

It was an analogy, and not a bad one, I don't believe, though not a totally precise one. The analogy pertained to "rights" to unrestricted web access, and I was saying that in this regard, China is like a company.

The really scary thing is, that I think you honestly believe what you write.
A lot of governments are doing a lot of extremely Bad Things on a regular basis.
No longer seeing this as a menace to our freedom is just one more step towards a police state even you will not like.

"Even" me? Which means . . . ? :rolleyes: And what's with the straw man fallacies? Who's denying menaces to freedom?

Giving up the liberty people have been fighting for for centuries because of terrorism is just declaring the terrorists the winners.

Of course, if your cities get bombed and your economic system thrown into chaos, that's not a loss of liberty?

There have always been sacrifices made by a country's citizenry during times of war, and that's how many regard the PA. You don't, but that's just your opinion. It can be changed, if needed, and will be to some extent, I'm sure. And technology will have to adjust.

- - -

Edit: The problem with discussing the interfacing between politics and technology is that you can't really address the technology part without considering the political. Arctic's point about conscience above seems to be the most individuals can do. If one doesn't like MS's policy, then one can choose to work elsewhere. One can also choose to buy MS or not and let them know why. That could make a difference.

bramley
06-20-2005, 12:46 PM
to explore the interfacings between politics and technology,

The best analogy to the interface between politics and technology is a very shoddy, RS232 made out of bent paperclips, and house bricks.

By this I mean it barely works. Politicians understand little technology, and almost always cannot see past the next election, so either:-

they legislate laws that cannot be enforced (or at least not without enormous cost to the taxpayer), or

they legislate to solve a short term need, and to hell with the consequences for the future.

The Utah laws that Carlos linked to earlier in this thread would be an example of the former, and is an issue because politicians won't back down (looks bad), and something even more muddled laws are the result. In other words sometimes privacy, freedoms, rights get trappled on simply because politicians didn't understand what they were doing to begin with, and now have to save face.

I feel that the latter situation is also a problem because of what I call "legislative creep." In other words, legislation that is intended to be enacted on a short term basis or to address a specific issue by one adminstration is often assigned a permanent status, or applied to issues for which it was not intended by a later adminstration. Misused, in this way, the digital age can have very serious impacts on privacy, freedoms, rights. End result (if common sense doesn't prevail) is a police state by encroachment.

On the other hand I don't think that technologists are too hot on politics, and don't see beyond the next gadget, or what the consequences of its misuse will be.

With neither side 'policing' the interface, there's no parity checking, no error correction, and this can only be bad news at some point.

====
EDIT:
Edit: The problem with discussing the interfacing between politics and technology is that you can't really address the technology part without considering the political.
Kind of what I was trying to say but less long windedly :) My additional argument is that at the level where decisions are made this is not always appreciated.

ArcticStones
06-20-2005, 01:07 PM
I do not, however, intend a political focus here. What I believe is worth debating here is the development and implementation of seemingly innocuous technology.

Even though some of the most political questions so far have been raised by the Site Administrator (no criticism intended!!), may I suggest we take three steps back from a directly political discussion? The danger of overheating this thread is apparent! And it would be a pity if it were closed.

I believe the last post by Bramley is a highly articulate analysis of the interface between technology and politics.

Most of us probably agree that technology needs the restraints -- at the very least -- of the users’ conscience and moral code.

I would like to ask other participators in this thread the following hypothetical question: Would it for example be a good idea for Google and other search sites to use filtering technology to make it more difficult for pedophiles to access child pornography? Could the implementation of such measures be effective? Does this raise any unforeseen dilemmas?

-- ArcticStones

voldenuit
06-20-2005, 01:33 PM
First of all, I'm very happy we are having this discussion at all and I'm grateful to Phil he's not only tolerating it, but actively participates and states that indeed, there is no way to artifically keep apart what belongs together.

While it is pretty obvious that there are a lot of opinions we do not share, I certainly did not mean to offend you with that misunderstandable policy-state-part nor to bash any politician or country in particular in my rather terse and to-the-point-posting.
Should you ask for it, I am prepared to have european and other countries their fair share of heat ;) .

To better understand the balance you invoke, I'd be curious to know where exactly you'd draw the line of acceptable restrictions to the principles that characterise a free country.

Is that entirely depending on the threat ?
Are there intangible principles to preserve at all cost ?

Phil St. Romain
06-20-2005, 03:56 PM
Should you ask for it, I am prepared to have european and other countries their fair share of heat.

No no . . . ;) ArcticStones asks a good question, however, to which I would reply that Google is free to do whatever they wish with their search engine. If you discover bias, then you can use another.

I'm still trying to understand, here, a human right to unrestricted web access. :confused: This, coupled with the kinds of observations made by bramley concerning the interplay between technology and politics makes for a perplexing situation.

ArcticStones
06-20-2005, 04:45 PM
I'm still trying to understand, here, a human right to unrestricted web access. :confused:

I don’t think that those of us who question Microsoft’s choice are necessarily proponents of unrestricted Web access. We must, however, look at the nature of the restriction, its motivation, the technology involved, and the moral choice of the business partner who implements that technology.

China is a very puritan country. Is there not a world of difference between the Chinese authorities implementing a "great firewall" against pornography, for instance, and a "great firewall" aimed at restricting what would elsewhere be considered ordinary, harmless information? I think one has to do some contortionist mental gymnastics to conclude that this is benevolent.
(But as many have pointed out, the issue is complex. Or is it?)

ArcticStones asks a good question, however, to which I would reply that Google is free to do whatever they wish with their search engine. If you discover bias, then you can use another.

Hmm... Seems to me that Google is far more than a company. It has become a key part of our digital infrastructure, used daily by the vast majority of Internet users. So perhaps this is not just a question of corporate choice...

But I meant the question hypothetically: the effectiveness of filtering technology if implemented, unforeseen drawbacks if any, etc. I myself lack sufficient technical knowledge of the World Wide Web to have a well-informed opinion.

So I would like to hear the thoughts of those who do.

Perhaps the best regulator of the Internet is the Internet community itself, however imperfect that may be? As such, is not the Web an awesome cybernetic process, which has become almost an organic entity? If so, does this entail that political intervention may run a high risk of yielding effects that are very different from those intended?

Based on my ignorance, I am just asking some innocent questions... :)

With best regards,
ArcticStones

CAlvarez
06-20-2005, 08:13 PM
I'm still trying to understand, here, a human right to unrestricted web access.
The "right" we are discussing is freedom of thought and expression. Web is just a medium useful for the excercise of such. The argument is whether people have a right to freely encounter thoughts contrary to those that their government wishes to give them. In our country, we say that is an intrinsic right, but who are we to impose that upon another country? Where do we draw the line between control, as in China, and mass slaughter, as in Nazi Germany?

Hmm... Seems to me that Google is far more than a company.
It may be effectively so, but that should not be an excuse to penalize or control it. You can argue that Google censorship is effective censorship, but that doesn't mean we must take control of Google. That's certainly not part of the foundation of this country.

It could be argued that Yahoo nearly enjoyed that status in the early days of the internet. They skewed results, the people didn't like it, and the people flocked to Google's natural rankings and display of relevant sites. This is where technology and principles combined to correct a perceived wrong.

Should Google become offensive to users, they can switch. They aren't the electric company, who owns the only wires going into your home.

Phil St. Romain
06-20-2005, 09:29 PM
The "right" we are discussing is freedom of thought and expression. Web is just a medium useful for the excercise of such. The argument is whether people have a right to freely encounter thoughts contrary to those that their government wishes to give them. In our country, we say that is an intrinsic right, but who are we to impose that upon another country? Where do we draw the line between control, as in China, and mass slaughter, as in Nazi Germany?

Well, the last question is easy, as there's a huge difference between killing people and controling their access to information.

The question of "whether people have a right to freely encounter thoughts contrary to those their government wishes to give them" is a good way of framing the issue. I don't think the answer is a simple yes or no, even in the more free societies. There is classified information, for example, which the government does not want us to know, and sometimes for good reasons. Another example I shared with ArcticStones via PM was that during WWII, President Roosevelt forbade the press from publishing U.S. casualty figures so as not to dishearten the population (how times have changed!). So there are contexts . . .

I realize the case with the Chinese government is a horse of a different color, but have you gents thought about just how impossible that task really is once you open the door to the Internet? I mean, they'll surely want to let their people learn about computers, and maybe even visit discussion forums. But see how even on a computer forum people discuss all kinds of things. ;)

Controling information access is a daunting task even in a small business; doing so for a country the size of China would be virtually impossible. Once you open Pandora's box just a little, I don't think the cover will close again.

hayne
06-20-2005, 09:45 PM
Another example I shared with ArcticStones via PM was that during WWII, President Roosevelt forbade the press from publishing U.S. casualty figures so as not to dishearten the population (how times have changed!)
I assume the "change" you are referring to is that now the president doesn't allow even the press to know the truth - at least as far as he can control it. Such control is of course more difficult in "peacetime" (as in current-day Iraq) than during "war".

voldenuit
06-20-2005, 11:03 PM
Is anybody thinking that the wording of Article 19 of the UN declaration of Human Rights goes too far ? :

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

I don't think that is to include classified information and everybody is free to appreciate the amount of truth contained in war-propaganda.

Carlos, when you ask "but who are we to impose that upon another country?", I think there is a slight error in the perspective:

It is the chinese government imposing rules on Microsoft and the fact they diligently obeyed has been put up for debate to know whether or not that is ethically correct behavior.
Bad PR and dropping sales are an efficient way of inspiring ethics.

Now while we're at it, those rules are not exactly the worse violations of Human Rights the chinese government has come up with.

Classified information excepted, I can't see on what grounds one would want to prevent people from informing themselves freely ?
How would you be able to form your own opinion if not by hearing out all parties ?

hayne
06-20-2005, 11:34 PM
Classified information excepted, I can't see on what grounds one would want to prevent people from informing themselves freely ?
How would you be able to form your own opinion if not by hearing out all parties ?
Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment and ask whether you think this same sentiment should apply to the restrictions (e.g. anti-pornography, anti-hate literature, anti-whatever-you-think-is-bad-for-your-kids) that parents impose (or seek to impose) on their children.
Perhaps we can conceive that the Chinese government is imposing restrictions to protect the delicate minds of their "children" (the populace).

Hence the debate. In the west, we generally accept that parents should have a right to control what their children read/see/experience - that parents have the right to try to influence their children's development towards a direction that the parents think is good.

Does a government have that right? Western democracies are not supposed to do that sort of influencing via restriction - except perhaps when it comes to bans on tobacco advertising, etc.

That said, I must point out that I am actually opposed to government restriction of Internet access - by China or anywhere else. But maybe I'm wrong to oppose it - hence the devil's advocate position.

CAlvarez
06-21-2005, 01:30 AM
Well, the last question is easy, as there's a huge difference between killing people and controling their access to information.
I know, but that's exactly my point. Somewhere in the middle there is the "line in the sand," and it will be at a different place for each individual. We can say that 99.9% of people agree that mass genocide is bad, but at some point from there to web censorship is where politics and disagreement come in.

I was born in Cuba, a dictatorship that pretends to be socialist/communist. There is very strict control on what can be seen, heard, and said there. My uncle spent 15 years in prison for speaking against Castro to people he thought were his friends. We probably would all agree that that is wrong, yet it is the law of that land. I wouldn't be surprised if some US companies had censorship deals with Castro, we just wouldn't be as likely to hear about it.

Back to technology though, as Voldenuit put it, the question is on MS' ethics in regard to the charge of collusion with the Chinese government. Now first, I think we all agree that MS would never get a fair trial around here, as most users of this board bear some sort of anti-MS sentiment. Please don't argue why or whether it's wrong or right, that's not the point. We've established that many companies have colluded with the Chinese government to try to keep the Chinese people from learning things about the world. Google, Symantec, MS, and surely plenty of others. Is that unethical?

As someone who is rabidly libertarian-thinking, I find all censorship to be offensive, with some very few and limited exceptions (such as *some* military secrets). However, I don't consider it patently unethical to provide a service to a government under the current terms of its laws. As Phil pointed out, there's a wide difference between genocide and censorship. I don't think censorship rises to the level of things we know are universally wrong, such as theft, murder, etc.

Several people have quoted UN conventions as an argument. I don't understand the relevance. The UN can say what it wants, but it doesn't mean a sovereign nation can't or shouldn't ignore it.

voldenuit
06-21-2005, 01:33 AM
Hayne, I'm glad to hear you share my opinion.

The analogy you offer does not work, I'm afraid.
There is a fundamental difference between adults living in a country that denies them access to information and children being accompanied by their parents in the discovery of the world.

With that out of the way, I think publications such as blogs, forums and podcasts are an important new forms of expression. Lowering the cost of being the editor of ones own blog or website to next to nothing has produced content that complements traditional mass-media in many interesting ways.

Search engines are extremely important and critical parts to navigate the net. The cost to enter the market is pretty high and not much but healthy competition can contribute to keep them honest and unbiased.
The rise and fall of yahoo and altavista shows that users are smart enough to use whatever service provides the most relevant search results.

There are massive efforts going on to challenge search results legally and it is good to know that one can look up who is trying to do what to google, archive.org and others here:

http://www.chillingeffects.org

Not all of the C&D letters published in their database are necessarily "evil censorship", but browsing the list gives an interesting overview about the everyday use of certain legal provisions.


There is a lot to be learnt about the intelligent use of search engines here:

http://searchlores.org/main.htm

It is unfortunate enough that it is increasingly harder to deal with the information overflow due to the cumulative nature of knowledge.
Nobody should be hindered in the attempt to form his personal opinion.

CAlvarez
06-21-2005, 02:39 AM
Great links, great point.

So the next question becomes, I think... "How do we influence the decision?"

I'm not naive enough to think a few people can affect company policy, but I have been involved in a political demonstration so powerful that it changed Blockbuster's corporate policies rather quickly on another civil rights issue. We also saw how quickly Symantec disavowed their connection with censorship. The question is critical mass and PR.

I am politically active and can tell you that letters do get noticed, since one person writing a letter represents hundreds of people too lazy to do anything about it but thinking the same thing. So I encourage you to consider a well-written but brief letter to any companies that you feel are not doing right. A company like Google is probably more likely to respond than MS, but in the time you take to post a complaint on a board like this, you can fire off a letter and see what happens.

Phil St. Romain
06-21-2005, 05:46 AM
I assume the "change" you are referring to is that now the president doesn't allow even the press to know the truth - at least as far as he can control it. Such control is of course more difficult in "peacetime" (as in current-day Iraq) than during "war".

I was referring to the press' propensity to report anything about anything under the pretense of the public's "right to know." That's a whole other story, however . . .

voldenuit
06-21-2005, 01:03 PM
Carlos, thanks for your nice words.

Phil, I am pretty sure to have a rather precise idea what hayne is thinking about; I shall leave it to him to interpret his own words however...

Not sure what you're thinking about when you suggest there might be +too much+ the press reports about.


To confuse the audience I will now +praise+ a California state law:

Recently, yet another security breach exposing credit-card data of Millions of people occcured:

http://cnnmoney.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=Breach+affects+40M++credit+cards+-+Jun.+20%2C+2005&expire=&urlID=14617954&fb=Y&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmoney.cnn.com%2F2005%2F06%2F17%2Fnews%2Fmaster_card%2Findex.htm%3Fcnn%3Dno&partnerID=2200&showBibliography=Y

(thats the print link, original URL is: http://money.cnn.com/2005/06/17/news/master_card/index.htm?cnn=no)

If you have noticed this kind of news to be a lot more frequent than before, that is not due to the fact that such problems did not exist, but rather that the corporations failing to protect your data efficiently were not required to report such breaches to the people whose data was compromised.

The californian law now offers both protection for those who are at risk and provides incentive to neglectful companies to review their security policy in order to avoid the bad press and liability issues sloppy security induces.

Encouraging such legislations to be adopted worldwide would be quite sensible.

Not only does it expose the dangers of data aggregation.

It might also start people to think about the possible need to restrict the operations of companies such as checkpoint who are in the business of selling your personal data without any regard whatsoever for your right to privacy.
Plus anything false in their database can make your life pretty miserable without you having even the slightest clue why the teller at your bank looks at you in a very peculiar way since the day your personal profile got by accident associated with the exploits of some con-man.

Don't get me wrong, credit checks are not evil altogether.
However the scoring, profiling and association of data from various sources is a real threat unfortunately too abstract to be grasped by most people without at least some technical background to fully understand where this is headed should it continue unchallenged.

Phil St. Romain
06-21-2005, 01:30 PM
Phil, I am pretty sure to have a rather precise idea what hayne is thinking about; I shall leave it to him to interpret his own words however...

As he was interpreting my words, and as I have clarified my meaning, all should be well in the interpretations dept. ;)

USA Today had a lead editorial yesterday castigating MS, Yahoo and Google for the China deal, pointing out that they had all become prosperous because of the freedoms enjoyed in the U.S. economic and political system. Yahoo's response was that when working in other countries, they were bound to follow the laws of such countries, which sort of begged the question of why work there in the first place. It turns out that several major media resources, including The New York Times, have refused to compromise their policies to suit the Chinese. So there's that good precedent.

Kudos to those responsible for passing the law in Cal. Good link, voldenuit.

bramley
06-21-2005, 01:31 PM
I would like to ask other participators in this thread the following hypothetical question: Would it for example be a good idea for Google and other search sites to use filtering technology to make it more difficult for pedophiles to access child pornography? Could the implementation of such measures be effective? Does this raise any unforeseen dilemmas?

The problem with any filtering technology is that it is always going to outmanoeuvred by users, even if it takes a while for them to figure it out. Computers are very poor at analysing meaning when it is not obvious and literal. So the Chinese bloggers - they only have to decide on an alternative way of saying freedom to get round the filter, and the authorities are back where they started. So personally I'm not too bothered by MS's involvement, or the whole concept of filtering bloggers comments since the democracy debate in China is probably happening relatively unhindered.

Looking back over history, you see that economic growth has always lead to improvements in rights issues (not without 'hiccups' on the way) so I believe that we shall see a more progressive China over time without the need for overt external pressure. I pretty sure internal pressure will dismantle the 'Great Firewall' in the not too distant future.

With respect to pedophiles, I think forcing websites on Google (or other search engines) to be filtered would set a possibly unpleasant precedence that could be used to demand the filtering of something more innocuous. It would also be possible for such websites to change their name, and thus get around the filter. Filtering is I think a waste of time. I think it's fair to argue that the best way to help law enforcement agencies is to allow unhindered access. I think most of us would report a site that we accidentally landed on that was pandering to pedophiles. I believe something like this happened a couple of years ago.

Don't get me wrong - I don't believe the web should be an anarchy - some kind of control and structure is necessary. The sort of digital Wild West we have at the moment is not ideal. The technical aspects of the Internet are taken care of with ICANA, IEEE, IRTF, IETF doing sterling work. It's the legal framework that I think is lacking. Some parts of the framework have been put into place by politicians and corporations, but I am unhappy about them being the sole driving force. Politicians for the reasons I mentioned in my last post, and corporations because their interests only approximately coincide with mine.

I think that web users need to have a say, and to push for a say. The idealists have advocated the formation of an entity (let's call it Netzonia) with its own laws and constitution to administer the web. Personally, I think the idea of Netzonia is where technologists demonstrate poor understanding of politics. Either that or they've been playing 'The Sims' too much. Netzonia isn't really practical. It's true that there aren't any political boundaries on the web and therefore the idea of declaring the web to be a defacto nation has its moments - but who's really going to accept its jurisdiction?

What I think might work is an international pressure group of voters working to get agreed legislation onto their countries statute books covering aspects of the web. In theory that is one of the purposes of ISOC, but ISOC membership includes politicians and corporations. There are several subsidiary organisations (IRTF and IETF are two of them) but I'm not aware of (and couldn't find one on ISOC's homepage) an organisation that purely represents individual users. Individuals are allowed to be members of ISOC so it shouldn't be impossible to set up such an organisation under ISOC's auspices. Such a group would comprise voters, and with enough numbers that's power to get legislation enacted, something that ISOC on its own couldn't do.

Legislation to be considered could include Internet privacy laws, online consumer protection laws, and laws on Internet defamation.

EDIT It could also cherry pick some good legislation that is in force as Voldenuit points out.

ArcticStones
06-21-2005, 01:42 PM
I have heard a story about a South American newspaper that was frustrated with the censorship of the former military dictatorship. Many of their best articles were ordered removed. After a while, the editors decided to replace these with photos of Marilyn Monroe -- the same photo, mind you.

The readers quickly caught on. And everyone had a big laugh trying to guess what stories had been censored this time. After a while, the government censors felt they were becoming the laughing stock of that newspaper’s readers.

So the government passed a new law -- forbidding the publication of any more photos of Marilyn Monroe!

:D


PS. There is a lot of recent great input into this thread! I would like to respond to some of it a bit later. Still considering various views and vantages here, checking out links, digesting and weighing my words.

But this is very worthwhile!

voldenuit
06-21-2005, 02:31 PM
Bramley, we do agree that censorship will most fortunately always be imperfect.
The internet, having been designed by the military to route around disruptions in the robust way we still see at work today in spite of the conspiration of all these caterpillar drivers around the world not to let glass-fiber-cables rest in peace whenever they can manage to crush them.

Let me quote yet another angry young man, co-founder of the EFF John Gilmore, on the subject of internet-censorship:

"The Net treats censorship as a defect and routes around it."

In spite of the fact that a majority of the people reading this thread could come up with quite a wealth of funny techniques to completely bypass whatever restriction one would try to enforce on an internet access, that is not true for Joe Sixpack and his chinese brother.

So if it looks like there's a consensus that Microsoft is wrong in flagging democracy as an error, why would we not use all the possibilities +we+ still have to stand up and say that it is a Bad Thing to encourage the chineses government in their attempt to prevent their people to inform themselves freely.

Probably not intended, but brilliantly illustrating your idea that technically minded people could fail to properly appreciate political situations given the fact that their "inside-knowledge" gives them the opportunity to ignore what the general public will then be stuck with.

Both sides, politicians and geeks, have a lot to learn from each other and a deeper understanding of these issues is absolutely necessary to make sure that legislation continues to reflect the rules the informed majority agrees upon.

As far as regulation is concerned, I am firmly convinced that less is more.
After all, the internet has grown to what it is now precisely because the only real requirement was to be able to cook up half-way credible TCP/IP-packets.
Unfortunately, there will be more and more red-tape around but I don't think that the internet will become a better place by attempts to replace 'rough consensus and running code' by anything else.

bramley
06-22-2005, 09:42 AM
In spite of the fact that a majority of the people reading this thread could come up with quite a wealth of funny techniques to completely bypass whatever restriction one would try to enforce on an internet access, that is not true for Joe Sixpack and his chinese brother.
I didn't suggest that sophicated techniques were necessary. My position is solely that Chinese bloggers will simply use their language in a different way to get their point across - if they are blogging then they are literate and already have all the computing knowledge they need.
So if it looks like there's a consensus that Microsoft is wrong in flagging democracy as an error, why would we not use all the possibilities +we+ still have to stand up and say that it is a Bad Thing to encourage the chineses government in their attempt to prevent their people to inform themselves freely.
I haven't said that we shouldn't speak our minds, and I believe a lot of people already have. What I implied was that effect of speaking our minds will be of minor importance compared with the growing pressure from within China. Arctic Stones' post illustrates how government censorship can be ridiculed.

A similar strategy was used by the liberal press in apartheid South Africa, who first put notices in their papers indicating that a story had been censored. When the government banned the notices, they simply left a blank space on the page where the article should have been. When the government banned the blank spaces, they substituted uncaptioned pictures of the founder of the Boer state. I think at this point the government gave up.
Probably not intended, but brilliantly illustrating your idea that technically minded people could fail to properly appreciate political situations given the fact that their "inside-knowledge" gives them the opportunity to ignore what the general public will then be stuck with.
I think this is an Ad Hominem argument, but as it's aimed at a point I haven't made, I'm not sure.
As far as regulation is concerned, I am firmly convinced that less is more. After all, the internet has grown to what it is now precisely because the only real requirement was to be able to cook up half-way credible TCP/IP-packets.
'Less is more' is only true if less has quality. Also the Internet now is very different place from say 5 years ago. The ability to produce TCP/IP packets is still there, but other considerations certainly exist.
Unfortunately, there will be more and more red-tape around but I don't think that the internet will become a better place by attempts to replace 'rough consensus and running code' by anything else.
I agree that there is/will be a legal framework (or red tape) on the Internet, but it would be better that that framework were established with user input than imposed by others, whose interests would have primacy.

Craig R. Arko
06-22-2005, 10:34 AM
Hey, Phil! The tone some people on this thread are taking is beginning to make me uncomfortable.

Phil St. Romain
06-22-2005, 11:38 AM
I second, Craig. Too many logical fallacies/ad hominems creeping in.

Thead closed.