Practical computer tips, with a smattering of digital philosophy
I fully admit that my reaction to all the hubbub surrounding the Windows 7 launch is likely to be far more negative and partisan than most, but honestly: doesn’t it seem somewhat tasteless, tactless, and brazenly irresponsible for Microsoft to go to such extravagant lengths to promote its products in an era in which a nearly unprecedented number of people are worried about how they’re going to put food on the table? What happened to corporate leadership, fiscal moderation, and all those other fine sentiments which MS and the other giants of the IT world supposedly endorse? Buying out Time Square’s ad space for a day and releasing a set of ads showcasing supreme selfishness (“7 was my idea – all Mine”) seems to me to smack of exactly the same kind of short-sighted, complacent, shoot-for-the-moon thinking that got us into this economic mess to begin with. Even Apple’s branding and advertising strategies aren’t quite this exorbitant – and I consider them to be at the extreme end of the shamelessness-in-marketing scale. Finally, I might also add that, if the merits of Windows 7 really can speak for themselves, it seems mighty odd that Microsoft is doing so much yelling.
What, exactly, is my point here? Simply that conspicuous consumption (not to mention shameless self-promotion) is annoying under any circumstances; in this economic climate, however, such behavior is reprehensible – and should not be condoned or rewarded. Though I have access to free (and legal) licenses of Windows 7 Ultimate through several channels, I have no intention whatsoever of installing it, and I encourage everyone else who objects to Microsoft’s virtually unbroken track-record of ethical and social irresponsibility to do the same.
More generally, I wanted to take this opportunity to formally articulate my stance towards Microsoft, and the various operational paradigms it embodies – a perspective which I’ve been formulating for much of the past few years. The way I’ve come to see it is this: though profit-driven mega-corporations such as Microsoft (and many others) have been responsible for a wide range of technological advances, their engineering accomplishments cannot begin to excuse or make up for the tremendous ethical failings on which those products were often built. Particularly in the case of Microsoft, whose capacity for innovation has historically been limited to creative uses of buy-outs, monopolistic business agreements, and outright theft, I believe that there is very strong a strong ethical and economic argument against continuing to implicitly support the irresponsible, ruthless, and completely profit-driven operating style that it and many other Silicon Valley powerhouses have embraced pretty much since their inceptions. As far as I’m concerned, it is high time we stop letting “the dynamics of the free market” decide how we work and live in our increasingly digitized world, and start considering the long-term implications of inhabiting a world where companies like Microsoft can and will do anything – intimidate, lie, sell our private information, etc. – to keep their profit margins up. The idea that a few nice design features can make up for decades of irresponsibility and unethical behavior is an insult to the idea of civil, law-based society – and one that I cannot condone.
Again, I realize my stance is somewhat extreme – and I am, perhaps, somewhat overstating my case. Nevertheless, I think my point still stands: it cannot hurt to stop once in a while and take a moment to think about the larger implications of the products and services we use every day, and make sure that they are helping us build a society that we’ll be able to live with in the years to come.
Two weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of attending the Linux Foundation’s annual Collaboration Summit. The experience was eye-opening and educational in a wide variety of ways, and got me thinking seriously about where Linux currently stands in the software ecosystem, what the operating system represents (or what it should represent), and what needs to be done to bring more public interest and acceptance to the general philosophy of free and open source software.
Actually, the following is really a response to every outrageous disclaimer, release of liability, reservation of “rights, “and other blatantly unethical (and dubiously legal) provision that appears in the EULAs (End User License Agreements), ToSs (Terms of Service notices), and lack of Privacy Policies that are constantly being shoved down our throats by large corporations. I plan to extend this eventually; for now, “enjoy.”
I hereby declare that I (“me”, myself”, or “a human”) am endowed with an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive Right To Privacy, as identified and articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, that no action, speech, indication of accord, or other form of representation (symbolic or otherwise) on my part or that of another party (with particular reference to any coercive actions undertaken by the corporate sponsor of the forum in question, know as “Facebook”) can be construed to signify that I have waived said right, and that I intend employ any means necessary to safeguard said right against unlawful infringement or revocation, including but not limited to:
i. Refusing, even under duress, to disclose any and all personal information I do not want published, marketed, manipulated, misused, and made visible to everyone under the sun.
ii. Acting in direct violation of any privacy-related directives or policies provided by Facebook that are or would be generally viewed (if anyone actually bothered to read them) as being coercive, unlawful, unethical, unjust, or otherwise so completely devoid of adherence to standards of reason and/or public expectation that they would be laughable in any other context. In particular, I shall retain the right to ignore the directive that “[my] User Data must be accurate and current,” and will likewise reserve the ability to disseminate “false, misleading or fraudulent information,” and more specifically to “provide any false personal information in [my] profile” whenever I deem it necessary to do any of the above to safeguard my real-world identity from spammers, id thieves, targeted/behavioral marketing firms, and all other parties who I do want to endow with the ability to track and/or impersonate me. I will likewise “attempt, encourage [and] facilitate… the above” whenever possible, for the purpose of increasing public awareness about the dangers of excessive information disclosure.
2. CONTENT POLICY
I hereby reserve an “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license” to all content I choose to display, modify, and/or produce within the framework provided by Facebook, with the stipulation that all such content may be used in accordance with the guidelines set forth in the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike of the Creative Commons 3.0 license, which explicitly prohibits any party from deriving or seeking to derive any monetary compensation from the use of said material. Specifically, no party is permitted to “(a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content [I] (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website, or (b) to use [my] name, likeness and/or image for any commercial purpose,” particularly “in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof.”
3. INDEMNIFICATION FROM GUILT-BY-ASSOCIATION : RELATIONSHIPS
I hereby disavow any responsibility for or association with the actions and/or behaviors and/or expressed desires and/or attitudes of all wayward associates, especially those collectively referred to by the corporate sponsor of the forum in question (known as Facebook) as Friends, pursuant to the statute of limitations established in sec. A1 of HSAGC (the Humanoid Self-Awareness and General-Consciousness Provision of the SSE (Sentient State of Existence), also known as Common Sense, wherein it is stated that the actions/attitudes of an individual associated only loosely with an individual of the same species can have only a limited bearing on the actions/attitudes of the latter individual in the event that at least one (1) of the following conditions are satisfied: i. Parties in question have contact only in as much as is allowed by the confines of the kind of entity to which this agreement refers – namely the series of constructs collectively known as “social networks.” ii. The first party engages in activity/speech/representation in question without first consulting the second party (in this case, the author) as to the merits/propriety of said activity/speech/representation.
4. LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS*
These terms are subject to change at any time, without notification, opportunity for redress of grievances, compensation for emotional or bodily harm, internal tax audits, or any other proof or manifestation of the accountability which you might otherwise expect. Any legal disputes arising between you and the content owner must either be settled by binding arbitration, or by letting the author get what he wants (please note that there is usually no difference between the aforementioned options). Your continuation past this point on the page indicates that you have read and understood all of the above, that I am liable for nothing and responsible for even less, that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, and that if you try it is very likely that you will shortly thereafter find yourself being prosecuted for copyright infringement, breach of contract, conspiracy, and any other obscure sections of the penal code we can dig up that might be applicable to your circumstances.
*Please note that I break from my previous style in this section: rather than writing a summary of my own legal prerogatives (as far as facebook is concerned, after all, I have none), I felt it would be more useful to “translate” that capitalized section found at the bottom of most ToSs and EULAs, into terms that (a) actually mean something, and (b) can be understood by ordinary mortals.
I think it likely that we all just haven’t paying attention for the past few years, and collectively failed to notice that facebook has always given themselves the right to do whatever they want with the content their users post – but for whatever reason, the New York Times reports that Facebook’s recent changes to their policy regarding user content have produced a fairly substantial outcry from the general public. Of course, I’m completely in favor of any increase in critical scrutiny towards large coorporations content policies, but I’m also somewhat bemused as to why this change has generated so much criticism, when google has openly admitted to doing the same thing for years.
In case you’re curious, here’s the exact verbiage that has caught everyone’s attention. If you’ve read my post on google’s content policy, this might sound rather familiar:
You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses.
– Exerpted from http://www.facebook.com/terms.php
If you find all this even remotely concerning, you might also want to take a look at this video from adbusters.org. Though it does seem to veer dangerously close to conspiracy theory in places, it nevertheless provides a valuable perspective, as well as additional information corroborating the fact that Facebook actually does have a coorporate agenda (surprise!) which doesn’t necessarily coincide with public interest.
Some of you will doubtless already be experts on Google’s privacy policies (or lack thereof), and many of you have probably heard vague mentions of some of their more disasterous public appearances – but to all those who haven’t had a chance to actually read Google’s formal statement of its policies regarding user-supplied content, be warned: the following will blow your mind. At least, it should. If the statements below don’t at least give you pause for thought, I’d suggest that you really need to take a closer look at the long-term implications of these kinds of policies (which, in fariness, are hardly unique to Google).
Without further ado, here are the golden words, which (as far as I can tell) apply to every single one of Google’s online services (gmail, calendar, docs, bookmarks…)
“11. Content licence from you
11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.
11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.
11.3 You understand that Google, in performing the required technical steps to provide the Services to our users, may (a) transmit or distribute your Content over various public networks and in various media; and (b) make such changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to the technical requirements of connecting networks, devices, services or media. You agree that this licence shall permit Google to take these actions.
11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above licence.
Are you really comfortable with every word that you write or read on-line being scanned, indexed, store, and shipped off to a variety of unspecified coorporations for the purpose of giving you a “more immersive web experience?” Or having an email to your cousin used in Google promotion?
If you’re even moderately outraged, good. But hold on – there’s a rather complex caveat that might confound your ire. Though I too find this whole arrangement thoroughly noxious, I must admit that google’s overall philosophy towards content ownership does in some ways seem remarkably in-tune with the “open culture”/ creative commons / copyleft movements – trends which I heartily applaud and support. The question of whether anyone can truly be said to “own” content in the Web 2.0 universe – and whether or not, in this day and age, the whole notion of content ownership is in fact totally obsolete – is one of great importance, and as much as I’m loathe to admit it, google’s “you no longer have exclusive rights to anything you produce on-line” doctrine can some ways been seen as little more than an unapologetic – and even, perhaps, foresighted – dose of reality.
Forward-looking though they may be, Google’s policies still rankle. And I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with the kind of future such polices forshadow.