Friday, April 24, 2009

Pirates, Blurred Responsibility and Filters

While we are trying to use the Internet effectively, there are many groups that see it as a problem to be managed or eliminated. I've come across a group of people trying to get Facebook classified for Pornography, nudity and sexuality. What happened to personal responsibility here? Choose your friends on Facebook, and you won't get any surprises. The 'censor everything' movement didn't start with Facebook, but now the censorship model has so much steam up it can take almost anything out.

At first I was pleased when France and New Zealand had highly restrictive laws. UK - three strikes law? Fantastic - they've always had good software skills so we need to stop their development in its tracks. Less competition for us - that's good. Then Australia and now Belgium got into the act. Australia censors some religious, health and anti-abortion sites. Belgium now censors anti-paedophile sites.

This is now getting totally out of control - every Person and business dependent on the Internet needs to step up and save the Internet from serious closure. I'd like to show you what finally sent me 'over the edge'. OpenDNS is a great tool - I use it on my SOHO network as an additional layer of protection, plus it allows me to stop categories like "Instant Messaging" if homework isn't done (Yes, that affects me and my business but not for long because it is a great motivator). I went to check how the community rated Facebook. It has two tags voted up, and I think they are reasonable - Instant messaging, Social networking. However, just look at the other classification tags that someone has thought should be applied to Facebook.

Let's talk about "Religious" and "Politics" for example. Any regime (Australia, China, Belgium, UK, NZ or France) that now wants to turn off "Religious" content - and that is always a popular one for any Country with global censorship - would also deny access to Facebook - just because someone, somewhere creates content of this type. It is not created by Facebook, and it is not pervasive either. There needs to be a more clear understanding of the separation between platform and content.

Fig 1 - The Classifications that have been requested and voted on for Facebook as at 25 April 2009. Note that each of these needed a Sponsor!

This issue becomes important for Bittorrent. One of my companies uses Bittorrent to get (licensed, paid for - and I shouldn't even have to say that folks) software that we can't easily download any other way. The PirateBay sideshow does not help. The PirateBay case wasn't about technology. I have heard the technical arguments about how and where content versus metadata is stored. Technical arguments are valid for a site like Mininova that sticks to DMCA rules. PirateBay lost based on a Business argument "Intent" - seriously paraphrasing - if you didn't intend to support Piracy, why are you called "PirateBay" and why didn't you take anything down? It is that fundamental intent issue that means Google can perform a technically analagous task with much less business risk.

Diversion: I personally believe that the cheeky email responses on the site are what did them in. A word to the wise - don't taunt people. I had given a talk about a year before the case where I said this would upset some seriously 'alpha' people who would be perfectly happy to spend as much of other people's money as it took to get even.

The message that gets into the public though is "Downloading is wrong". Some might be, some is very right. The distinction between the content and where the service that transports or indexes it is crucial to the effectiveness of the Internet. I will also concede that there are 'naughty pictures' on the web - I've seen some. Is this adequate justification to bring it all to a halt? Back to Facebook for a minute - I've found friends - many of us have- through Facebook. What are we losing if it can get a silly set of censorship tags? Let's not forget the Amazon disaster where they tried to keep the extremists happy at the expense of their users.

We all have to step up now, individuals and businesses, or we will lose it all, and much faster than I thought.

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