Digital avatars as risk-free social substitutes: Scruton

Philosopher Roger Scruton offers this Hegelian critique of our growing digital lives:

This process of raising ourselves above the animal condition is crucial, as the Hegelians emphasized, to the growth of the human subject as a self-knowing agent, capable of entertaining and acting from reasons, and with a developed first-person perspective and a sense of his reality as one subject among others. It is a process that depends upon real conflicts and real resolutions, in a shared public space where each of us is fully accountable for what he is and does. Anything that interferes with that process, by undermining the growth of interpersonal relations, by confiscating responsibility, or by preventing or discouraging an individual from making long-term rational choices and adopting a concrete vision of his own fulfillment, is an evil. It may be an unavoidable evil; but it is an evil all the same, and one that we should strive to abolish if we can. Transferring our social lives onto the Internet is only one of the ways in which we damage or retreat from this process of self-realization.

Survey finds free internet downloads primary music source for teenagers

A survey of 47 000 teenage internet users has found found that 33 per cent nominated ”downloading from the internet without paying” as their primary source of music. While this doesn’t necessarily imply piracy, it looks pretty grim for the content industries, and lends weight to previous surveys suggesting that a majority of adults had engaged in file-sharing at some point. According to iiNet, 50 per cent of ISP traffic is now BitTorrent, and 97 per cent of BitTorrent trackers deal in copyright works.

In a survey of more than 47,000 of its members worldwide, the site, which caters to 13 to 18-year-olds, found 28 per cent of the 574 Australians who responded nominated ”downloading from the internet without paying” as their primary source of music. That compared with 37 per cent who purchase music online and 20 per cent who buy CDs.

Australian teenagers are even more law-abiding when it comes to movies, with just 26 per cent admitting they ”at least sometimes” download or stream movies, compared with a global average of 46 per cent.

Romantic intermediaries and algorithmic normativity

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that online dating websites make algorithmic choices that strongly influence influence (and are tailored to) their users’ behaviour. But are they better?

I asked Yagan whether OkCupid might try tailoring its algorithm to surface more statistically successful racial combinations. Such a measure wasn’t out of the question, he said. “Imagine we did a lot of research, and we found that there were certain demographic or psychographic attributes that were predictors of [successful relationships]. Hispanic men and Indian women, say,” Yagan suggested. “If we thought that drove success, we could tweak it so those matches showed up more often. Not because of a social mission, but because if it’s working, there needs to be more of it.” …

Algorithms are made to restrict the amount of information the user sees—that’s their raison d’être. By drawing on data about the world we live in, they end up reinforcing whatever societal values happen to be dominant, without our even noticing. They are normativity made into code—albeit a code that we barely understand, even as it shapes our lives. … We’re not going to stop using algorithms. They’re too useful. But we need to be more aware of the algorithmic perversity that’s creeping into our lives.

Business broadband more important than water or gas: UK report

According to a report by English ISP XLN Telecom, access to broadband internet services is more important to small and medium-sized businesses than gas, water and other essential services.

The survey, which contacted 657 small UK business owners, found that 77 per cent of respondents listed telephones as ‘essential to the running of their company, while 76 per cent listed electricity. In third place: business broadband (67 per cent), with water and gas trailing on 39 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively. 76 per cent indicated that broadband was an ‘essential tool’, up from 11 per cent a decade ago.

This suggests that businesses facing disconnection under the reserve powers created by the Digital Economy Act 2010 (UK) will incur a substantial burden — which raises the question whether the burden is disproportionate to the harm. Meanwhile, residential users report broadband more important than food. Hmmm.

Architecture as policy: EFF panel discussion

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted video from a great panel discussion on how platform architecture affects the rights and choices available to users. Cindy Cohen chairs the panel, which begins with a basic overview of Lessig’s ideas about code and policies, and moves through various stories which illustrate how decisions made during system design can affect user privacy and data security after launch. Definitely worth a watch.

Two views of the internet age

An inspiring, if somewhat zealously expressed, thought for the day from Wired magazine’s Kevin Kelly:

Three thousand years from now, when keen minds review the past, I believe that our ancient time, here at the cusp of the third millennium, will be seen as another such era. In the years roughly coincidental with the Netscape IPO, humans began animating inert objects with tiny slivers of intelligence, connecting them into a global field, and linking their own minds into a single thing. This will be recognized as the largest, most complex, and most surprising event on the planet. Weaving nerves out of glass and radio waves, our species began wiring up all regions, all processes, all facts and notions into a grand network. From this embryonic neural net was born a collaborative interface for our civilization, a sensing, cognitive device with power that exceeded any previous invention. The Machine provided a new way of thinking (perfect search, total recall) and a new mind for an old species. It was the Beginning.

Contrast this antidote to fanatical techno-pessimism with Nicholas Carr’s equally cynical response:

… if there’s a higher consciousness to be found, then by all means let’s get elevated. My problem is this: When we view the Web in religious terms, when we imbue it with our personal yearning for transcendence, we can no longer see it objectively. By necessity, we have to look at the Internet as a moral force, not as a simple collection of inanimate hardware and software. No decent person wants to worship an amoral conglomeration of technology.  Read more »

2008 Cybersecurity Year in Review -- Part I: Data Security

It should come as no surprise that 2008 was an eventful year for online security pundits. Record instances of data breaches, identity theft, vulnerability disclosures and hotfixes were seen throughout the year. Both state and non-state actors were involved — on the public side, cyberwar in Georgia and alleged Chinese cyber-espionage; in the private sector, new low-level DNS exploits, SSL flaws and routing bugs were uncovered.

In a series of posts, I summarise the eight top cybersecurity issues for 2008 and their likely outcome in 2009, beginning with data security.

  • Data breaches up 69 per cent in 2008
    In July 2008, researchers at the Identity Theft Resource Centre reported 342 data breaches since January, up 69 per cent compared with 2007. Most breaches affected government or military entites, followed by education and business sectors.  Read more »

Microsoft Announces Additions to Office Dictionary; W C Minor Turns in Grave

With Microsoft Word 2007 due for release later this year, the development team has recently been finalising the list of locale-specific words to be added to the default spelling dictionary. For this version, Microsoft has decided to expand the global lexicon, recognising such delightful (ahem) ‘Aussie’ slang as ‘bogan’, ‘sheila’, ‘bonza’ and ‘sickie’.  Read more »

Microsoft sets Live Messenger Beta free

Microsoft revealed it will extend its VoIP service to cover 11 countries next week as it made its Windows Live Messenger Beta available for download today.

Originally by The Register - Software, 2:21 PM

Google Shows New Services in Battle of Search Engines

Google introduced several services on Wednesday that draw on contributions from users to help identify popular Web sites.

Originally by NYT > Technology, 1:41 PM

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