Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive for the 'problems with technology' Category | back to home

2 July 2005

It’s bad enough that crazy frog ads pepper cable TV and that some of the people selling the horrible ring tone seem to have dodgy business practices. If all this wasn’t enough, there seem to be java-enabled banners advertising the ringtone dotted all over the web. They play the wretched tune at me whenever I see them and as often as not they cause my browser to seize up as well. Make it stop!

26 November 2004
Filed under:Privacy,problems with technology at11:30 am

If you use an instant message tool, people who want to contact you can know when you are online (that’s half the point of the software after all). But the Big Brother-ish IM Watching.net goes one step further and keeps an eye on the whereabouts of IM users 24/7 (as long as they have elected to make their online status publicly known). So now you can (for example) confront a teleworker or spouse with ‘evidence’ they weren’t at their computers for several hours they said they were. Oooh! Very sinister… Of course it was only a matter of time.

I don’t use IM much myself, and only make my online status known to people on my buddy list so it wouldn’t affect me.

6 November 2004

And now Google’s ad policies are public. Google will not run ads promoting gambling, beer or spirits (wine is apparently fine), fireworks and a long list of other banned subjects. Of course you can always argue about what they should have added and what doesn’t belong there – I also expect a number of objections by borderline cases. For example, they ban advertising of ‘miracle cures’ (but seem happy to allow ads for homeopathy). And I expect there may be a couple more exclusions they don’t mention. Would they allow dissidents to advertise the “anonymous proxy servers”:http://www.samair.ru/proxy/index.htm that would enable Chinese people to get around their government’s “internet filtering”:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/china/? Would they let people advertise “Nazi Paraphernalia”:http://www.metronews.ca/tech_news.asp?id=2702 as Yahoo got prosecuted for? (the stuff arguably isn’t in itself ‘advocating against a protected group’ (which they ban) but I don’t see any ads come up if I search for ‘nazi for sale’).

Nice at least to see some openness from Google about the ethical policies they have exercised until now without scrutiny.

2 November 2004

I was going to recommend last minute voters take a look at Presidential Guidester which I read about in Wired News but then I checked it out. It asks how important a variety of issues are to me but not what stance I take on them which to my mind makes it at least a useless and at worst a dangerous way to ‘help’ people make decisions. For example taxes are a very important issue to me – I would like to see them higher. Job creation is important to me, but I see free trade as the best way to ensure this happens. Gas prices are very important to me – I would like to see them raised dramatically (over time). The Presidential Guidester doesn’t offer me any way to even express those views so that I can see which candidate matches them. If I say taxes are important to me I assume that answer pushes me more towards the Republican point of view.

28 October 2004

Michael Feldstein “suggests”:http://www.elearnmag.org/subpage/sub_page.cfm?section=3&list_item=25&page=1 that the tendency of bloggers to link to other bloggers, usually done as a way of crediting them with the idea, tends to smother discussion or debate: “The very same hyper-linking impulse that makes it easy to pass along an idea with a minimum of effort also makes it easy to appear as if I’m agreeing with the post I’ve referenced when, in fact, I’m just deferring to it.”

From an academic perspective I think Cass Sunstein “got there first”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/sunstein.html (though he was talking about Internet mediated discussion more generally). I know this is one of the things that bothers Habermas about the Internet (I asked him). Shanto Iyengar “disagrees”:http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR26.3/iyengar.html.

Thanks to Jeremy Wagstaff for the link

20 October 2004

I cannot understand why this government feels compelled to liberalise gambling laws in this country. I find it extraordinary that the Government would see casinos as a means of regional regeneration. Of course not all the bill is bad – it does ban advertising for online casinos and bans fruit machines from places without proper supervision like takeaways and minicab offices – but it also allows for more and larger casinos.

I can’t cite the relevant research but from what I remember the evidence suggests much of the money spent on gambling comes from the poor and the elderly and it flows to large multinational corporations (if anyone can refer me to hard data on this I would be interested). There are already 400,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK and the Henley Centre suggests this bill could add another 300,000. According to Gamcare for each problem gambler 15 others are affected.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists found serious problems with the bill – in fact the joint committee heard from five groups all opposed to the bill. In addition the NHS’ Health Development Agency has produced an excellent article outlining some of the dangers.

I don’t recall any groundswell of popular enthusiasm for increased gambling being expressed – in fact one poll suggests 90% are opposed to further liberalisation.

I can’t understand why there isn’t more protest around this issue. The Salvation Army has responded to the government’s proposals but while it is criticising the bill it does not seem to be running any kind of online campaign.

To my dismay, not only did there seem not to be an anti-gambling lobby group on the BBC’s iCan site – it provides information on how to run a lottery to raise money for your cause! There’s an anti-gambling bill campaign there now however and I encourage you to join it and if you are in the UK see what your MP says about the bill and lobby him or her to stop it

I just discovered I have a powerful ally on this issue (if a strange bedfellow) the Daily Mail is running a campaign against the gambling bill as well. If you are in the UK you can join their campaign by emailing casino@dailymail.co.uk, giving your name and address, and saying you also oppose the gambling bill.

24 September 2004

Search Engine Watch publishes a good roundup of the latest coverage of flaws and bias in the way Google News’s automated news gathering works in practice. They link to a New Scientist article revealing “Google China has suppressed links to ‘forbidden’ news”:http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996426 on the grounds that:

“In order to create the best possible news search experience for our users, we sometimes decide not to include some sites, for a variety of reasons. These sources were not included because their sites are inaccessible.”

. It’s an explanation but not really a justification…

10 September 2004

A study reported in New Scientist “found”:http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99996374 regular diarists were more likely than non-diarists to suffer from headaches, sleeplessness, digestive problems and social awkwardness.

It’s worth noting however that, ‘the authors acknowledge that the experiment could not demonstrate which came first – the diary writing or the health problems’. It seems not unlikely that ‘the worst affected of all were those who had written about trauma’ because on average most people did not have serious traumas! Unfortunately I have been unable to find the original paper on the web.

Danah “wondered”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/09/09/diarying_bad_for_your_health.html whether this has implications for bloggers, too. The ‘side effects’ of personal web publishing – intended and unintended – are something I plan to look at in my own research. One of the things I am curious about is how often people who publish online find that they “lose their jobs”:http://news.com.com/Friendster+fires+developer+for+blog/2100-1038_3-5331835.html or are “embarrassed in other ways”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2003/11/13/mom_finds_out_about_blog.html .

Thanks Danah for the link

9 September 2004

John Battelle asks:

Imagine the ability to ask any question and get not just an accurate answer, but your perfect answer – an answer that suits the context and intent of your question, an answer that is informed by who you are and why you might be asking. The engine providing this answer is capable of incorporating all the world’s knowledge to the task at hand be it captured in text, video, or audio… What opportunities arise when knowledge can be so easily gathered? What threats? How might this change our social structures, our politics, our economy?

As far as I am concerned, the danger is not what would happen if such perfect search existed – the danger is that “good enough” search might exist that seemed to deliver near-perfect results but actually relied on still flawed or commercially biased algorithms and had an underlying database that was incomplete. People might forget to use other better but harder to use sources of information and those other sources might gradually disappear. They might also put too much trust in the results they get.

In fact I fear this is already beginning to happen with Google.

6 September 2004

In “California”:http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/9588858.htm?1c a man attached a cellphone to an ex-girlfriend’s car and used it to stalk her (The woman eventually caught the guy under her car attempting to change the cellphone’s battery). Of course it is much easier to simply track your target’s cellphone – something that is apparently being done more and more frequently in Korea. I think all services should require the tracked phone user to acknowledge each tracking attempt.

See “this item from my archive”:https://blog.org/archives/000712.html for info on UK cellphone tracking services.

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