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As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »


Open social data is a Wild West for many companies, with Google, Facebook, and dozens of social monitoring tools rushing to map our relationships and lives before legislation catches up with them. But by mapping data captured across open Wifi while taking Street View maps, Google may have triggered our legislative immune system.

Australian joins German police in investigating the privacy breach (which is nothing new — war-driving is a common practice; it’s just been hard to prosecute people for it.) Australia seems an unlikely defender of surfers’ rights, since it’s busy blocking Internet access; by contrast, Germany’s enforcing safe surfing by its citizens, making Wifi passwords mandatory — which would have prevented the Google breach. This is also the first step in making Wifi owners accountable for everything that crosses their network.


First, they came for the Furries; but I was not a Furry, and I said nothing.

The Australian government has been asking visitors whether they’re carrying porn, according to the Australian Sex Party (no, really.) If you are, they’ll enjoy review it to ensure it meets their standards.

It’s part of the country’s plan to control its citizens’ Internet access: if you’re blocked from certain sites, you might try to smuggle the smut that floats your boat via computer or memory stick.

Unlike network filtering, however — which happens in data centers and doesn’t seem personal — this is a much more direct and immediate example of restricting information. It’s also a reminder that filtering the web is an inexact science at best.

(See the Arstechnica piece for more details.)


Patently absurd

If patent attorneys continue unabated, we may one day have to be careful how we think, lest we run afoul of patents.

Patents control how inventions are used and sold. Initially covering new products, the scope of patents was expanded by the US Congress to include processes.

Today, patents reach far beyond simple processes. Companies are patent genes and mathematical algorithms. eHarmony, for example, has patented a mathematical formula for compatibility; now, other companies are rushing to patent the application of math to everything from finance to energy.

This documentary looks at the expanding definition of patents, and how it might change society.

As we incorporate technological inventions into ourselves, we may find the patent-holders in control of our lives, and be forced to pay someone in order to think in a particular way.

Fossil frog, by kevinzim on Flickr

We’re rethinking many of the fundamentals on which our society is based: identity theft, privacy, employment background checks, freedom of speech, and the burden of proof. But the elder statesmen of the high courts aren’t keeping up.

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