Free Expression Has Its Limits On Xbox Live

23 11 2010

We champion our First-Amendment right to free speech as a protection of our right to be who we want to be. Our choices reflect our values, and manifest themselves physically as representations of who we are.

Call of Duty: Black Ops allows its players to do just that; using a new feature called the Playercard Editor, users can choose between 480 images which can be layered on top of each other, with the options of coloring, moving, rotating, flipping, or resizing each image to create a unique and individualized graphic emblem.

Some of the many emblems Black Ops players can choose from to make their individualized playercard.

I’m frankly surprised that it took this long since the game’s release (two weeks) for someone to invoke Microsoft’s wrath on the subject of offensive emblems. Twitter user “JohnJohnson39923” questioned Xbox Live Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse whether or not it would be alright to use a swastika as a Call of Duty emblem “not to offend,” but because he/she “like[s] the design.”

Toulouse replied via Twitter, “Seriously dude?,” going on to say that any users using a swastika as an emblem will be banned from the Xbox Live network. Unfortunately for Toulouse, this statement brought out a caravan of the Internet’s anonymous warriors for free speech, citing what Toulouse referred to on his blog as “contrarian” viewpoints on the swastika and other well-known symbols.

Toulouse said the commentators suggested he should “apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox Live” because under “niche interpretations” symbols such as the Star of David and the Christian cross can be considered as vile as the swastika.

It’s too bad for those “Internet pundits” that Xbox Live is not a community to which United States free speech laws apply; it is a virtual community owned and operated by Microsoft Inc. It is therefore this organization that sets and enforces the rules by which members of the Xbox Live community abide.

Toulouse considers the policy “fundamental respect,” rather than political correctness. While he believes it’s “great” to have society reevaluate the swastika symbol, he wrote on his blog, “Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is not the right place to do that.”

Advertisements




The Data Cold War Gets Colder

9 11 2010

As TechCrunch chronicles the growing embitterment between Facebook and Google, users are left to ponder the future of contact data exportation.

Wait, what?

It’s so much more ridiculous than it sounds. When you sign up for Facebook, it allows you to import contact information (namely email addresses) from another web networking client (Yahoo!, Twitter, etc.). In the case of Gmail, Google decided to no longer allow Facebook to import contact data when a user signs up for a new account, in retaliation to Facebook’s policy against exporting its own user contact data into other services.

So, Facebook will accept other client’s data exports, but won’t export its own, and Gmail is pissed, and stopped exporting its contact data to Facebook. Especially after Digital Trends told him  in the cafeteria that Facebook was making out with Bing in the parking lot after the pep rally. The whole situation is high school, really.

 

And at this point, Google’s whole data blocking maneuver is useless. Facebook managed to create a loophole allowing Gmail users to upload their contacts via way of CSV file, making Google sad (in its own passive aggressive way).

To make this situation sound more mature (and I suppose it should, these are largely important entities in the expanse of cyberspace), TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington has referred to it as a “data war.” Given the dry exchange of banal antics between the two digital superpowers, I’d call it a data cold war (in Rocky terms, I wonder which one gets to be Drago).

 

"If he dies, he dies."

 

In all seriousness, I find this chain of events surprising, frankly. Google is the alleged champion of the open Internet, yet it is the one stifling users’ ability to communicate data. While this particular instance is a relatively unimportant conflict of policy, it casts a shadow of doubt on whether these titans of industry will continue to get along in the future. Judging by the outcome here, it will only be making life more difficult for the users.





A Media Pirate Vessel Sinks

3 11 2010

As of Oct. 27th, user-friendly, popular, and ancient (est. 2000) peer-to-peer file sharing network Limewire was shut down by a court-ordered injunction. After almost a decade of legal sparring with the Recording Industry Association of America, founder Mark Gorton’s brainchild was ordered by Judge Kimba Wood to shut down. Wood concluded that because of Limewire, the RIAA “suffered – and will continue to suffer – irreparable harm from LimeWire’s inducement of widespread infringement of their works.”

The RIAA’s history of handling copyright infringement makes their case hard to sympathize with. But while the RIAA has a reputation for being copyright

I don't think this is actual RIAA propaganda, but you get the gist of it.

fascists, Limewire’s plight is nothing new. It follows the precedent set by Napster and Kazaa before it. However, the RIAA has yet to fully tackle the Marxist media monolith of torrent file sharing.

While Limewire served its purpose best in distributing individual .mp3 files and perhaps albums, torrent systems allow users to download unlimited amounts of data (let’s say, the entire series of Seinfeld). Torrent systems such as uTorrent and Azureus still allow users to download media content, free from copyright infringement enforcers. And, in the meantime, any number of file hosting sites allow users to upload files (including full-length films, albums, etc.) for any user to download.

Though the RIAA has tried for over a decade to end music piracy, the constant evolution of sharing (a.k.a. stealing) technology makes it too difficult to keep up with. Check out this timeline of file-sharing technology (note that while it mentions The Pirate Bay was shut down under a court injunction, it appealed; it awaits a verdict from a Swedish court on Nov. 26th).

RIAA archnemesis the Electronic Frontier Foundation gives you tips here on how to NOT be sued by the RIAA.

For a tutorial in torrent file acquisition, check out this video:





Sinister Synergy

24 10 2010

Yet again TechCruch points out the errs of the world, as it is wont to do, in this piece chronicling the Wall Street Journal’s shoddy coverage of a Facebook privacy breach.

Ignoring the irony of bad reporting in the “information age,” TechCrunch’s coverage highlights the fact that MySpace, a NewsCorp entity, was deliberately left out of an article covering Facebook’s many issues with user privacy controls. Michael Arrington, the TechCrunch contributer covering the incident, points out that this is probably an effort directed by the WSJ and Myspace’s parent company, NewsCorp, in relation to MySpace’s concurrent relaunch of its social networking system.

While synergy was traditionally seen as a good thing in the eyes of the corporate media, we now (and doubtfully for the first time) bear its consequences. The Journal is known for being one of the world’s best newspapers, yet we find out that we are being denied critical information on a socially relevant issue to protect MySpace from bad press?

I call bullshit. This type of integration of agendas is what’s wrong with corporate media today; the interests of the corporate machine outweigh the obligations of its smaller, information-based subdivisions. It’s everything that’s wrong with the authoritarian theory of the media (in which society’s needs outweigh those of the individual).

Like Arrington, I can’t really close this one out with a solution, but I will admit that this is a sad state of affairs. I suppose the most we can do at this point is bitch and moan online, unless like Robert McChesney suggests, we completely revamp our media with a complete structural overhaul. Yeah, fat chance.





The End of Internet Trolling?

17 10 2010

Online message boards and comment threads have long standing reputations as being Thunderdome-like verbal war zones, with slanderous bombs and spiteful attacks lobbed in all directions on any variety of subjects. We can trace this behavior, often referred to as “trolling,” to online anonymity; the idea that users are not required to disclose any information regarding their identity in the cybersphere. But in the way that the evolving web often tends to, the vicious and offensive behavior of Internet trolls has seeped out from cyberspace in into reality.

 

Formula for an Internet Troll

 

Separate legal actions have been taken against Google by a model and a Columbia Business grad student to seek out the identities of online attackers, in efforts to bring their respective trolls to justice under defamation charges. While both “victims” used litigation to have Google provide the identities of their attackers, their cases diverge in terms of context.

The model, Liskula Cohen, squeezed the identity of blogger Rosemary Port out of Google after Port asserted on her Blogger.com account that Cohen was a “psychotic, lying, whoring… skank.” While a New York court sided with Cohen and forced Google to provide Port’s information, Julie Hilden believes Google “betrayed clients” by not siding with Port’s right to freedom of speech.

Hilden, a Yale Law graduate specializing in First Amendment litigation, admits that while the comments technically fall within defamation statutes, one must also question, “Could any reasonable person have read this material and truly believed, with any degree of confidence, that Cohen was literally psychotic, or truly a liar? Or, would they have read it in the way that that the blogger ultimately urged the court to read it – as an out-of-control, spewing rant expressing nothing but anger and dislike? I think the answer is the latter.”

Anne Salisbury, the lawyer that represented Port in this legal fracas brings up the notion that taking this type of legal action could stifle free expression online. She references a case in California in which a developer is suing Google to obtain the identities of journalists that wrote stories about a bribery scheme in which the developer was involved. She said, “Google has taken the position that unless it receives a written “motion to quash” the subpoena, it will release the information to the developer’s attorneys. Many people in the free speech community are alarmed at this potentially dangerous incursion, because of the belief that vigorous, honest discourse will be stifled by fear of retribution if personal, identifying information can be so easily obtained.”

There has to be a line drawn between legal frivolities such as Cohen’s battle against “skankblogging,” and more serious cases such as the one in California, and former model and Columbia Business grad Carla Franklin’s case against a cyberstalker.

Franklin asserts that in addition to anonymous harassing behavior including unwanted phone calls and emails, she had to deal with multiple YouTube “shrines” dedicated to her, using unauthorized video footage and photographs. According to her, the last

 

Carla Franklin has taken Google to court to bring her cyberstalker to justice.

 

straw was an anonymous comment posted on one of these YouTube videos, calling her a “whore.” A Manhattan judge ruled in her favor, ordering Google on Friday (10/15) to come up with the identity of Franklin’s attacker. Franklin has since posted her case at the online forum Free Speech Version 3 to promote online harassment awareness and argue for legislation protecting individuals from such violations.

The cases of Cohen and Franklin outline some of the issues we must now face in the era of completely anonymous global communication. While it has taken society centuries to arrive at the free speech standards we enjoy today in reality, we must begin to contemplate what restrictions, if any, should to be applied to the Internet. Hilden’s suggestion that the “reasonable person” would have known to take Port’s comments with a grain of salt shows recognition that people understand that the Internet is not meant to be taken as a solid source of information, just like Wikipedia is not to be taken as a solid source of information in writing a research paper. However, the rising trend of cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment have to fall into their own area of the law, not a legally inapplicable gray zone, to protect those who cannot fight trolls hiding behind anonymity.





The Problem With Micronetworks

11 10 2010

As mentioned in this post on GeekWithLaptop, Facebook has introduced the concept of creating groups of online “friends.” These groups can range as something as small and intimate as college suitemates or an extended family, or something as large and diverse as the North America Man Boy Love Association (mentioned by Lora Bentley on her IT Business Edge blog as a prank pulled on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington).

The prank highlights the idea that is so discomforting about the Facebook Group platform: that anyone can be invited and included in a group sans permission. Before this gets misconstrued, this is partially true. While a user can invite or be invited into

 

TechCruch's Michael Arrington used the privacy loophole in the NAMBLA Facebook Group to add Mark Zuckerberg as a member.

 

a group by someone else, should the invitee leave that group, the inviter is unable to automatically add that person again without expressing a manual invitation. Even so, for a user to be included into a group without expressed consent is one of Facebook’s fundamental problems regarding user privacy.

Fast Company expert blogger Brian Solis notes in his post about Facebook Groups that “privacy is now a process of boundary management. It is in our control to define how much other people know about us, what they see, and the impressions they form.” Solis is absolutely right. However, a large part of Facebook users might not be in the same mindset. As a longtime Facebook user, I know for a fact how easy it is to invade a person’s privacy simply because they erred in managing privacy settings, such as friend lists and tagged photographs.

The idea of these micronetworks only makes this lack of privacy less secure; in unwittingly being included in Groups, potentially infinite people have access to any and all information not explicitly made unavailable in Facebook’s navigational gauntlet of privacy settings. Photographs from the weekend, unflattering status updates, it’s all accessible to family, employers, coworkers, etc.

In a world where Facebook is becoming exponentially more influential and omnipresent (it’s even on your TV’s!), users have a responsibility to themselves to appropriately manage their information output and especially upload (for example, if you have a picture of yourself hugging the toilet after a night out, it’s probably best not to post it).

Or, in the extreme case scenario, you can just opt out of Facebook altogether and close your account. I’m continuing to lean in that direction, it’s just a matter of coming to terms with communicating with people by email and phone again. One day.

For those of you that love corporate propaganda:





The Filter Bubble

11 10 2010

While some first took it as alarming, many of us are now used to Facebook and Amazon providing us with targeted advertisements and product recommendations, based on interests we’ve indicated through web search queries. Now, Google and Yahoo! are doing the same things to our search results, according to an interview with MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser. MoveOn.org states in its About page that it is a cluster of organizations that “work together to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn is a service — a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” One of the goals of Pariser, a renowned Internet activitst, is the passage of net neutrality legislation. He also wants to promote awareness of the problem created by customized search results, an issue he calls “the filter bubble.”

 

MoveOn.org Board President Eli Pariser

 

Pariser describes the filter bubble in his interview with news and entertainment site Salon: “Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo! doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the “filter bubble”: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.”

Pariser explains that while these personalized search filters serve a purpose in helping us navigate through the vast amounts of information available online (an issue I delved into in one of last week’s posts), they’ll provide us with a plethora of information on the subject of search query, but nothing else. He says, “There’s a looping going on where if you have an interest, you’re going to learn a lot about that interest. But you’re not going to learn about the very next thing over. And you certainly won’t learn about the opposite view.” This results in a “feedback loop” creating an informationally-restricted environment: the filter bubble.

Pariser suggests a reasonable legal alternative to prevent this from becoming a locked-in part of social media SOP: that web sites become required to have users design their own privacy agreements. Rather than have users “read” pages of legal disclosures then agree to become a site member, Pariser suggests ” a standard format by which customers can have their own policy for how they want their data used.”

Implementing this, along with the success of net neutrality legislation, will prevent the Internet from becoming dominated by a few major media corporations, a disappointing trend of every telecommunication technology of the last century. This, Pariser claims, “is the project of the next couple of years.”

Pariser discusses the filter bubble at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum: