All items about legislation

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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 »

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Via @lennysan, this is a great piece on how public, prosthetic memories will change us forever. Humans forget things with good reason: forgetting lets us discard old ideas in favor of new ones, and pain recedes so we can try things like childbirth again. Not so digital memory.

There’s a growing movement to put a statute of limitations on public digital data, even as Google reveals that it’s stored every search since its launch and the Library of Congress is archiving every Tweet.

As this Ars Technica piece points out, “in an age of ever-cheaper storage, the data committed to machine memory requires an act of will to delete.”

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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.

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Got a problem with the way someone thinks? Then you’ll love social networks like Facebook, because they give you easy ways to harass your ideological opposites.

Search makes it easy to find someone you disagree with. Once you’ve found your ideological target, get your friends to report them, and let the automated antispam systems do their work. ReadWriteWeb has an example of groups reporting someone in order to wrongfully shut down their online accounts already.

How did we get here?

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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.)

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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.

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The social graph land grab

The map of how humans know one another will be a tremendously valuable thing. Internet giants like Facebook and Google know how valuable the data will be — it will govern everything from how we advertise to how we give people security clearances. We’re in the middle of the biggest social graph land grab in history.

In the absence of clear guidelines or legislation with teeth, however, the industry is taking an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission approach to social mapping.

Google has had to pivot quickly in recent months from mapping the web to mapping its users. At least it’s transparent about what it knows: the company publishes its social network mapping, showing who it knows you relate to and how.

Others aren’t so up-front. A Facebook gaffe installed applications when you visited other sites. As this piece points out, when apps install themselves it’s called malware; but on Facebook it’s a feature.

There’s little to discourage Internet giants from building this map, and if you’re online in any way, you probably can’t hide. On today’s Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.

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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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