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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

You Know the Internet has Reached a New Low

…when a live webstream of a woman being raped shows up online.

Seriously, this is disgusting:

According to police, Hock raped the woman in her own bedroom after she had been asleep for four to five hours. The victim told police she learned about the video after receiving numerous text messages from her friends. She said she then signed onto the Web site and found photos of Hock lying next to her as she was nude from the waist down, the statement said.

Phoenix police said they obtained the five-minute video and heard Hock comment about how the victim was completely passed out and how he can have sex with her without her knowledge.

I have no commentary to add to this detestable story, except to say ladies: always, always be sure you know what kind of people the guys you’re drinking with are.

This is just absolutely revolting. I’m going to go vomit now.

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Filed under: Internet, , ,

Update: Protecting “The Children”

PolicyBeta summarizes the final report from Internet Safety Technical Task Force:

I fear that our society is about to make a similar mistake with social networks. If we impose laws that inhibit minors from using social networks, we will drive them away from the current leading social networks (which are very concerned about child safety) to overseas websites (which have far less concern about the safety of our kids). If there is one takeaway that policymakers should get from the Task Force report, it is that public policy in this area should be made based on real data about real risk, not media hype, and on a concrete understanding of the technological, privacy, free speech, and other implications of any proposed policy (or technology) solution.

Amen. The whole thing is worth a read, for you techies out there.

Sounds almost like wishful thinking, doesn’t it? The problem with politics is that reason and economic analysis usually take a back seat to compromise (geez, I’m channelling Ayn Rand now). I will be very, very surprised if the internet escapes regulation under the Obama administration (or any administration). Maybe I’m overly pessimistic, but I just don’t trust that the leading voices (and shapers of public opinion) among politicians and regulators are much more knowledgable about modern technology than my own computer-illiterate Dad. John McCain’s ignorance of and apathy towards technology, had he miraculously won the election, might have made the internet safety hot-button more of a political non-issue, as it should be.

Filed under: Internet, Politics, , , ,

No thanks, Mr. Martin, I’ll stick with Charter.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin recently scrapped his plan to create an national wi-fi broadband service, one that would have (supposedly) filtered out every piece of pr0n and smut a hormonal 13-year-old would want to get his hairy palms on.

Need I go into all the reasons why a heavily-filtered public internet service would be a terrible, terrible idea? Well, for starters, there’s the first amendment issues surrounding the censorship of public spectrum. Also, don’t overlook the fact that the government sucks at providing most of the services it provides (been to the post office lately?). Then there’s the privacy issues surrounding government regulation and administration of an electronic communication medium. Not to mention the fact that the market has already indicated that there’s no need for the government to spend tax dollars to provide this “public good.” And to be practical, even the “smartest” net filtering programs are dumb as rocks when it comes to natural language processing and typically end up blocking web pages about, for example, breast cancer prevention.

Ryan (yes, the Ryan Radia for all you fans) at TLF has a great post on this story.

Filed under: Information Tech, Internet, Politics, , , , , , , ,

R.I.P.: MPC Computers

Via Slashdot: MPC Computers, formerly known as MicronPC, has announced plans to liquidate their assets and go out of business. Granted, this isn’t earth-shattering news, but it does resonate with me slightly – my very first computer was a Micron. I bought it in 2000, when I was a junior in high school. I’d saved my money from my crappy job at Wal-Mart and bought the only Micron (or non-HP or -Compaq) model that Best Buy carried. From then on, I spent my weeknights enjoying hours upon hours of AIM-chatting and Napster file sharing, using K-Mart’s free Bluelight internet service.

I had got myself a decent machine. An 800 MhZ AMD Duron Processor. 64MB of RAM (later upgraded to a hefty 256MB). An 8MB graphics card. An 8x CD-RW drive. A 30GB hard drive. And the ultimate in computer productivity: Windows Millenium Edition (oh, wait…). Back in my days as a computer science student, I used to become annoyed when professors would speak about their first computers as if they were astoundingly primitive. I’m now old enough to appreciate the ever-increasing pace of technological progress.

Good bye, MPC. Thanks for the memories.

Filed under: Tech Biz, , , ,

Apples to Oranges: No Internet vs. No Sex?

A survey sponsored by chipmaker Intel reports that 49% of women would rather abstain from sex rather than pull their LAN cable for two weeks. Does this news shock anyone? The survey itself was called “Internet Reliance in Today’s Economy.” Intel has just proved what we already know: the internet has become a necessity for a lot of people. No email = zero work productivity. Comparing one thing that’s necessary for paying your bills to another that’s merely pleasurable (okay, very pleasurable, even) doesn’t tell us anything meaningful. Ask any question of the following form: “Would you rather make do without necessity A, or without pleasurable activity B,” and you’re likely to get similar results. Why not ask “Agree or Disagree: I would lose my job if I were cut off from the internet for two weeks.”

My annoyance here isn’t with the survey or its results, it’s with the fact that people consider this newsworthy. It says “sex!” Go with it! /eyeroll.

Filed under: Internet, Tech Biz, , ,

Children on the Internet

Techdirt reported today that, in response to politicians fanning the flames of public outrage concerning the (overstated) presence of child predators online, many social networking sites have begun to adopt age verification systems. But wait, there’s a catch: these systems are known to collect and build databases loaded with information on children. The result: once-anonymous children are now data points in a whole new info bank for marketers (and whomever else can get their hands on this data). Captured information includes age, gender, school, even addresses. The concern, of course, is that kids will be targeted with ads for sugary sodas and junk food. I, however, remain skeptical that ads for Cheetos and Mountain Dew are worse for a ten-year-old than advertisements for “meeting local singles” or “[edgy, smart-ass] Hilarious t-shirts!”

I’ll repeat it until I’m blue in the face: Children and the internet just don’t mix. Parents cannot monitor their children’s internet use very well, and apparently, if it’s not one of Chris Hanson’s celebrities endangering kids, it’s the Frito-lay company. Also, in my experience, there’s no better way to infect your computer with dozens of hard-to-remove viruses and spywares than to let an eleven-year-old surf the internet for an afternoon.

My general suggestion is that parents prohibit their kids from using the internet for anything other than visiting the Discovery Channel. No email, no AIM, no youtube, no webcams. I feel like there’s an opportunity to both address the issue of kids on the net, and make some serious money with a revival of the “walled garden approach” to the internet, but I’ve talked about that before.

Filed under: Internet, Tech Biz, , ,

Internet, Teens, and Cyber-bullying

At the risk of losing several coolness points, I’m writing in response to yesterday’s episode of Dr. Phil. The topic was cyber-bullying among teenagers, with the take-home message being that the internet has significantly changed the nature in which kids handle their disputes with each other. Videos of schoolyard fights can be found on youtube. Rumors that were once written only on bathroom stalls are broadcast across Myspace for anyone to read. And of course, we’ve all seen the poor Star Wars Kid, whose public embarrassment and ridicule led his family to file a lawsuit against his peers. Without a doubt, the internet has transported an unfortunate, occasionally tragic, yet very common part of adolescence into a public arena where insults are traded anonymously and can have potentially serious results.

I’m usually skeptical of appeals made using anecdotal evidence, but I think the examples in this case illustrate the dangers and distress kids are causing each other and themselves through the internet. One young woman on the show found her Myspace page had been hacked into by a former friend, who had changed the profile to portray the girl as a “woman of low moral character” (my words). To add insult to injury, said “friend” posted the girls private cell phone number, publicized the page, and reset the login info, leaving the girl unable to repair the damage. She reported having to change phone numbers after receiving a slew of sexually offensive phone calls from strangers. Another young man on the show had recently found a fraudulent website depicting him (using his real name and his photos) as a drug user, attempted rapist, and general lowlife. The page had been around for months before he was even aware of it, and his concern now is that the phony information will keep him out of college, should any university admissions boards ever stumble upon it.

Internet harassment was very recently publicized last year with the Megan Meier suicide. Parent and teachers’ groups are demanding laws on the books that protect “the children” and empower law enforcement officials to apprehend and punish internet harassers. Opponents blame the parents, saying it is their responsibility to undertake the (admittedly impossible) task of supervising their teenagers 24-7. And free-marketers/free-netters correctly warn that laws that police internet behavior will put us on the slippery-slope towards content regulation and free-speech violations.

So, how to balance the safety of “the children” with the freedom and anonymity of the internet? First, I think it’s important we admit something that we tend to overlook: parental controls don’t work very well for teenagers. The average parent lacks both the time and the technical know-how necessary to supervise their children’s online behavior. And a tech-savvy teen can circumvent internet-nanny software in no time. It seems that parents’ only recourse at this point is to spring for a WoW subscription, in hopes that the addictive gameplay of MMORPGs will distract their children from the rest of the internet’s offerings.

It’s also important to remember that, as a group, teenagers are probably the dumbest population segment in America. Yes, I’m being a bit hyperbolic, but it’s pretty close to the truth. Teens’ preferences are 99% based on popularity, rather than actual usefulness, form, functionality, quality, etc. This means that crappy, terrible, garbage-ridden internet applications like Myspace, once they have a critical number of other teen users, will beat out superior apps like Facebook (which has much better privacy controls, user interfaces, and design) for the coveted “teen demographic.” Moreover, teens have virtually no understanding of the concept of “three-to-five years from now” (five years ago I wholly expected to be a rock star by now), and their decisions, not to mention their emo-heavy videoblogs, often reflect this.

Having said that, online harassment carries huge costs: public humiliation and emotional distress are the most obvious, but the above examples illustrate the serious safety threats and long-run negative effects of cyber-bullying. No adolescent should have to deal with these consequences. Yes, ideally parents should be responsible for teaching their kids about internet safety and monitoring their online activity, but the reality is that most parents aren’t reasonably capable of effectively doing so.  However, constitutional rights to free speech and the mostly-unregulated nature of the internet must be protected, too. Those parties emphatically calling for legislative action clearly don’t understand or realize 1) the unintended consequences of internet regulation, and 2) the importance of constitutional protections for free speech. Are we, then, at an impasse?

How about a market solution? I can think of a few:
1. A website that allows parents to register their children and create official profiles that the parents and kids can modify. Users would be charged a small fee for the service, and access to the site would be granted to college recruiters, youth-oriented service programs, and the like.

2. Internet erasers. Actually, I believe these already exist to some extent. These firms would essentially operate like credit counselors/information sharks, googling the client’s name, contacting any websites hosting harmful information about the client, and negotiating the pages’ deletion.

3. AOL re-brands itself as family-friendly, all-ages internet. Its mostly-ISP business model could be refashioned back into the “walled garden” service that only provides certain kinds of content: webmail, educational sites, sports and finance, news, etc. (perhaps this time they should leave out chatrooms, which seem to attract pedophiles like bureaucrats to power). Sure, it’s not “real” internet, and content could be heavily monopolized by AOL and its affiliates, but I think parents would pay a pretty good price for a high level of safety. If not AOL, maybe Disney? It might fare better than Disney cellular service did.

Does anybody have any other solutions? Comments are open.

Filed under: Internet, , , , , ,

Andrew Keen is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Culture-snob Andrew Keen is at it again. Earlier this week, he predicted that the trend towards more and more “free” stuff on the internet – software, social applications, media – is coming to an end with the approaching recession. As you may have guessed from the post title, I think he’s wrong.

His first and most obvious error: Keen assumes that people consider blogging, open-source coding, developing social networking websites as “labor” in the conventional sense. Might not people do these things because they consider them leisure activities? (Disclosure: I used to be a programmer – it’s kinda fun).

Keen’s analysis also falls short by ignoring the underlying economics of the situation. In a competitive labor market where many workers are competing for few jobs, firms look to hire the best people they can get for the wage they’re willing to pay. In the software industry, developing or contributing to open-source software is commonly how young programmers gain experience and build portfolios, and is a good way to advertise their skills and entice prospective employers. If more programmers must compete for fewer jobs, one would expect to see more, not less, open-source software in the future, as young coders scramble to augment their skill sets. Similarly, aspiring web designers, internet moguls, and youTube auteurs ought to be creating more web pages, social apps, and internet films. And up-and-coming journalists and writers would – you guessed it – write and blog more. It’s called “human capital,” Andy.

My human capital-accumulation plan: graduate school!

Filed under: Economics, Internet, , , , ,

South Korean Government Pwns the Ppl.

March 2008: The new South Korean government is elected with help from web-savvy voters who take the campaign to the ‘net.

May 2008: The newly-elected South Korean government votes to allow American beef back into the country; the internet serves as a channel for exaggerated rumors of Mad Cow Disease; general panic spreads across the country and complete madness ensues.

August 2008: The South Korean government attempts to enact wide-sweeping regulation over the internet.

The proposed rules include: a requirement that internet companies to make their search algorithms public; regulation over any internet company that publishes any news stories; and the power to suspend any news article thought to be slanderous or fraudulent (free speech/press, anyone?). As contrary to the free-information internet-spirit as all of these measures are, the award for the most asinine requirement has to go to real-name verification of all registered forum and chatroom users.

That’s right, the South Korean government is attempting to deny its citizens their right to anonymously troll forums full of thirteen-year-olds and harass n00bs. South Korea suxx0rs.

The UK Guardian has an article here.

HT: 463

Filed under: Internet, , , ,

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