Tag: Social Networking

Microsoft Doesn't Want My Business. That Can Be Arranged.

So in case you haven't been keeping score, apparently the next version of the Xbox will require an always-on Internet connection, even for single-player games.

As you might expect, some people are unhappy about this.

Microsoft's Adam Orth knows just how to treat concerned customers: by insulting and mocking them with disingenuous analogies.

Image: Adam Orth's Twitter feed, insulting his customers' intelligence and his own

Now, one of three things is true:

  1. Adam Orth is stupid.
  2. Adam Orth thinks you're stupid.
  3. Both.

I shouldn't even have to fucking explain this, but here goes anyway:

A video game console that doesn't work without an Internet connection is not analogous to a vacuum cleaner that doesn't work without electricity or a cellular telephone that doesn't work without cellular service.

Because, you see, a vacuum cleaner, by its nature, requires electricity to function. (Technically some vacuum cleaners get that electricity from batteries, but keep in mind, Orth's analogy is very very stupid.)

A cellular telephone requires cellular service to function.

You see where I'm going with this?

A video game console does not require an Internet connection to function.

Now, some games might. Complaining that, say, World of Warcraft requires an Internet connection would indeed be comparable to complaining that a vacuum requires a current and a cellular telephone requires cellular telephone service.

But -- fun fact! -- many video games are single-player.

Refusing to buy a video game console that requires an always-on Internet connection is not analogous to refusing to buy a vacuum cleaner that requires an electrical current.

Refusing to buy a video game console that requires an always-on Internet connection is analogous to refusing to buy a vacuum cleaner that requires an always-on Internet connection.


Yesterday Google started encouraging YouTube commenters to use their Google+ accounts. Google claims that this will make YouTube commenters use their real names and, therefore, not act like such assholes all the time.

I think it's more to do with Google desperately trying to get people to use Google+ after everybody tried it for a month and then went back to Facebook. But the notion of "realname enforcement" as a deterrent to trolls is a pipe dream and it's been pretty roundly torn apart already. So, I present to you this post, a reworked version of something I wrote last October.

John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory posits that ordinary people, given anonymity and an audience, turn into total fuckwads. I agree with this assessment wholeheartedly.

Which is why the suggestion that removing people's anonymity so they've got to stand by their words is so appealing: at least some people would be a little less obnoxious on the Internet if they had their real name attached to everything they said, right?

Which would probably be true if it could actually be implemented, but it can't. This argument essentially mirrors the DRM argument: intelligent, tech-savvy people understand that it doesn't fucking work, but idiots continue to support it because it sounds like something that should work. So we wind up with something that does fuck-all to stop people who are misbehaving, while managing to create an obnoxious inconvenience for people who have done nothing wrong.

To wit: All "realname enforcement" means is that a troll has to use a plausible-sounding name like "John Smith". Meanwhile, people who have actual unusual names get hassled and held up, as noted in the Washington Post article Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend. (Some people really are named "Batman" or "Yoda"!)

All that aside, there are legitimate reasons to use a pseudonym on the Internet. Fortune gets it; danah boyd (no relation) really gets it.

Another site has popped up called "My Name Is Me" where people vocalize their support for pseudonyms. What's most striking is the list of people who are affected by "real names" policies, including abuse survivors, activists, LGBT people, women, and young people.

Over and over again, people keep pointing to Facebook as an example where "real names" policies work. This makes me laugh hysterically. One of the things that became patently clear to me in my fieldwork is that countless teens who signed up to Facebook late into the game chose to use pseudonyms or nicknames. What's even more noticeable in my data is that an extremely high percentage of people of color used pseudonyms as compared to the white teens that I interviewed. Of course, this would make sense...

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. "Real names" policies aren't empowering; they're an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

I use my real name online -- but I'm a straight, middle-class white boy between the ages of 18 and 35. Worst thing that's going to happen to me is somebody asks me about my political opinions in a job interview, or posts satellite pictures of addresses you can find if you run a whois on my website.

Charlie Stross has a wonderful analysis of everything that's wrong with realname enforcement under the title Why I'm not on Google Plus; notably, it quotes Patrick McKenzie's Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. I'm going to follow Charlie's lead and quote Patrick's list of falsehoods in its entirety:

  1. People have exactly one canonical full name.
  2. People have exactly one full name which they go by.
  3. People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
  4. People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
  5. People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
  6. People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.
  7. People’s names do not change.
  8. People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
  9. People’s names are written in ASCII.
  10. People’s names are written in any single character set.
  11. People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.
  12. People’s names are case sensitive.
  13. People’s names are case insensitive.
  14. People’s names sometimes have prefixes or suffixes, but you can safely ignore those.
  15. People’s names do not contain numbers.
  16. People’s names are not written in ALL CAPS.
  17. People’s names are not written in all lower case letters.
  18. People’s names have an order to them. Picking any ordering scheme will automatically result in consistent ordering among all systems, as long as both use the same ordering scheme for the same name.
  19. People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.
  20. People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
  21. People’s names are globally unique.
  22. People’s names are almost globally unique.
  23. Alright alright but surely people’s names are diverse enough such that no million people share the same name.
  24. My system will never have to deal with names from China.
  25. Or Japan.
  26. Or Korea.
  27. Or Ireland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad, Haiti, France, or the Klingon Empire, all of which have "weird" naming schemes in common use.
  28. That Klingon Empire thing was a joke, right?
  29. Confound your cultural relativism! People in my society, at least, agree on one commonly accepted standard for names.
  30. There exists an algorithm which transforms names and can be reversed losslessly. (Yes, yes, you can do it if your algorithm returns the input. You get a gold star.)
  31. I can safely assume that this dictionary of bad words contains no people’s names in it.
  32. People’s names are assigned at birth.
  33. OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
  34. Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
  35. Five years?
  36. You’re kidding me, right?
  37. Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
  38. Two different data entry operators, given a person’s name, will by necessity enter bitwise equivalent strings on any single system, if the system is well-designed.
  39. People whose names break my system are weird outliers. They should have had solid, acceptable names, like 田中太郎.
  40. People have names.

Now, it's true that Internet Fuckwads use pseudonyms to behave in a way that they probably wouldn't if they were forced to use their real names.

However, any potential benefit of such realname enforcement is negated by the fact that -- and those of you familiar with my opinions on swear filters and DRM may notice a trend here -- realname enforcement doesn't fucking work.

Stross also links a Gary Walker piece, A Firsthand Examination of the Google+ Profile Reporting Process, which pretty much takes a wrecking ball to any notion that Google+'s realname enforcement is, well, even slightly competent.

To wit:

He set up a second Gary Walker account, and used the same avatar -- which isn't personally identifying, just a Lolcat.

Then he reported the second account as an impersonator. To file such a report, he had to prove his original account was the "real" Gary Walker. To do this, he Photoshopped a crooked scan of his picture onto the McLovin ID from Superbad, and replaced "McLovin" with his own name, in a different font from the rest of the ID.

Google accepted this as a valid ID, and temporarily blocked the second Gary Walker account.

To prove his identity, Gary responded from the second account, taking the same fake ID and Shopping a picture of Jared fucking Loughner on it.

The account was reinstated.

In short, in a revelation that should surprise absolutely fucking nobody, realname enforcement doesn't stop anybody from using pseudonyms -- it just forces them to use pseudonyms that sound, plausibly, like real names.

Meanwhile, both honest people who want to use pseudonyms and people with unusual real names are penalized.

So yeah, I think the comparison to DRM and swear filters is apt: legitimate users get fucked, abusive ones don't even have to break stride.

That was where my original post ended. The rest of the thread is well worth reading; a number of the guys on the board note that as far as they're concerned, their handles are their real names at this point. Forumgoer Kayin, creator of cult gaming hit I Wanna Be the Guy, is best known on the Internet as Kayin; nobody knows who the fuck Michael O'Reilly is. (And, as I note, even O'Reilly tends to fuck with "realname" parsers, due to the apostrophe.) I've met some of these guys and still didn't address them by their real names; Kazz will always be Kazz. Sei won't even tell us his real name.

(Hell, I've been mostly-using my real name online since 1990, but there are still some people out there who think "X" is actually my middle initial. I used to know a guy who always addressed me, in person, as Thad "X" Boyd. As in "Hi, Thad 'X' Boyd. How are things, Thad 'X' Boyd?")

Google+ did add support for pseudonyms a few months after the criticism started, so that, say, Madonna can sign up as Madonna, but it still requires that the pseudonyms be "established" -- as vaguely defined by some guy in an office somewhere. Kazz and Sei, presumably, don't qualify. I guess Kayin might, but I doubt it, and to my knowledge he hasn't tested it -- last I heard he'd deleted his Google+ account.

Anyway. If all that's not enough to convince you that realname enforcement doesn't work, consider this: do you generally think of Facebook as a place where people are polite and don't say offensive or insulting things?

And consider this: I post under my real name, and have been for over twenty years -- and it hasn't stopped me from posting things with titles like Nintendo President Still a Fucking Idiot, Experts Say.


Last night, when I was digging for old Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic I wrote when I was 11, I ran across a page that had set up a profile for me.

Nothing I'd signed up for; a site that had apparently trawled search engines and found things out about me.

For example, it had an address and phone number on it that were both, at various times, attached to my domain registration information for this site. It asterisked out the last four digits of the phone number, as well as the street numbers of the address -- but I don't know how much that would prevent anyone from finding the house, seeing as the site's got a satellite photo of it with an arrow pointing to it.

Now, I haven't lived at that house in years. And I've been pretty good about keeping my current address off the Internet for most of this century. But you know, I did pick up a stalker once who posted vaguely threatening satellite photos of old addresses he'd found by Googling my name. He was laughably incompetent at the whole stalker thing, but it was still a little on the creepy side.

There are other things about that site that made me curious about its data aggregation. I know where it got my (old) address and phone number, but it also knew my brother's name, and I'm curious where it found that. (Not like it's a secret or anything, I'm just wondering where and how the scraper found it.) It also listed my age -- as "early 40's", which I have to admit makes me feel a little better about turning 30 in a couple months.

But you know, it's a bit disquieting to know that that address and phone number will be associated with me forever (or at least for years to come). If I ever attract any competent crazies, that could mean harrassment for whoever lives in those two places now. (My domain is now registered to the address and phone number of the hosting company. Please don't go after them if I piss you off, either; they're an understaffed local business and their job is tough enough as it is.)

There was a story a few months back about Spike Lee retweeting what he believed to be the address of accused child-murderer George Zimmerman but turned out to belong to a couple of elderly retirees. You can imagine how that went.

So, you know, not that I believe that the sort of gibbering maniac who stalks people who make him angry on the Internet will heed this advice, but here it is anyway: do not engage in Internet Mob Justice. You want to send an angry E-Mail to a public address or call in a complaint to a public number, okay, but leave personal phones and home addresses out of it. Not just because that's basic human decency, but because you might get the wrong person.

But Internet Mob Justice could make for a whole other post, or a whole series of them. (And, mind, I haven't actually been subjected to any, beyond the weirdo with the satellite photos a few years ago, nor do I expect to; I'm just indulging in general musing right now.)

But back to the point. Back when I used my real, personal addresses and phone numbers as contact for this domain, I wasn't thinking about long-term effects or unintended consequences. And I think that's an ongoing problem in the era of social networking.

Back in April, Cult of Mac wrote a feature on an app called Girls Near Me, which used Facebook and FourSquare location data to help users find people in the area and pull up their profiles. Charlie Stross had further comments.

At minimum, the app had potential for simple skeeze -- sliding up to a girl at a bar and pretending to coincidentally be interested in the same things she was. At maximum, well, full-on stalking. The app was pulled in pretty short order, but the app was just an aggregator -- people still post location data and personal information; that information is still out there, whether or not it's aggregated by a skeezy-looking app.

People post about being on vacation, and their houses get robbed. You'll recall I was out of town this past weekend -- but I didn't mention it until I got back. (I even scheduled two posts to go up while I was gone, to keep up my post-a-day streak.) Now, as I said, I don't think my current address is available anywhere on the Internet -- and my readership is far too small to pose any kind of statistical likelihood that somebody's waiting for a chance to rob my house -- but at this point it's just a best-practices thing.

I dunno. Guess I'm not going anywhere in particular with this. It's just weird, the amount of shit that's out there, the amount that's accurate, the amount that once was, and the amount that's just pure goofy-ass bullshit. (Still wondering where that aggregator got the idea I'm in my forties.) Something to think about.

Do Not Like

A few weeks back, I laid out my aversion to Facebook and the like.

When I updated the site code a bit to add tags, I considered whether to add all the now-standard bullshit Like/+1/Pin/Reddit/StumbleUpon/Digg (Wait, Digg? That's Still a Thing?) buttons to the bottom of my posts. They'd probably get more exposure that way. And hell, maybe someday, if I'm actually concerned about getting exposure instead of, say, people stumbling on my site randomly while doing a search for "did stan lee bone at jack kirby's wife", I'll bite the bullet and stick a linkbar down there. But for now, I'm perfectly happy with my uncluttered little niche site. (Reminder: this site's title is meant as irony.)

Now, the thing is, upvoting actually does have positive applications. Not just in terms of exposure, but it's a great way to organize a comments section, provided it's implemented as it is on Slashdot or Reddit: popular posts become more prominent, while the trolls get drowned out.

Of course, this has the potential to result in mob-rule stupidity. That's why Slashdot doesn't allow just anybody to upvote comments; certain users are selected as moderators (and other users are selected as meta-moderators to help ensure that the moderators reflect the community). Slashdot's not perfect, but it uses a very effective model for its comments section. (On the other hand, if you put the power in the hands of too few people, you end up with a situation like Digg -- which I quit reading some years back precisely because I thought the voting had fallen to the lowest common denominator, but which as it turns out was being tightly controlled by a small and select group of morons.)

Course, that's not what the Like/+1/Karma/whatever button is typically used for. Typically it's purely masturbatory -- it doesn't affect which posts are more or less prominent, it just functions as a scorecard. The people clicking Thumbs-Up or -Down get to stroke their own egos and the ego of the poster (and it doesn't matter which -- do you really think someone who's got a shit-ton of thumbs-down clicks is any less satisfied than someone who got a bunch of thumbs-up? Because here's the thing: if somebody's got dozens of thumbs-downs, that is exactly what he was trying to get.). It's also a very rudimentary form of gaming, of the sort Ian Bogost parodied in Cow Clicker.

I'll say one thing for it: it at least serves as a substitute for people writing banal little one-word praise posts ("Seconded!", "Yes!", "Like!", "This!"). I'd rather see a "+100" next to somebody's comment than 100 one-line replies.

That said, I'd rather people actually, you know, find intelligent things to say.

Not a Luddite, But...

Until recently, I used to tell people that, for a computer scientist, I'm something of a Luddite. I don't use Facebook or Twitter, I don't have a smartphone -- I don't even text.

More recently, it's occurred to me that it's not that I'm a Luddite, I'm just a guy with a different set of priorities. And actually my tech savvy is probably responsible for some of that.

I don't have a Facebook account because I want control of my privacy settings. It's not like I'm anonymous or anything; if you're reading this, then profoundly embarrassing things with my real name attached to them are just a couple of clicks away. A couple of clicks max.

But that's my call. That's not "third-party site suddenly changes its privacy policy without warning" territory. And whatever I may put on this site, it certainly doesn't constitute permission for advertisers to sell it to each other.

I understand the appeal of Facebook. I did the MySpace thing, back when that was a thing people were doing. It was cool to get back in touch with people I hadn't seen since high school. But ultmately it was a new place for them to send me all those damn chain E-Mails and personality tests I had asked them all to stop sending me; it was a time sink of the sort I'm not much interested in anymore, and if they really want to get in touch with me they can Google my name. I'm not hard to find.

As for Twitter -- well shit, if you read this blog you already know that even my off-the-cuff single-sentence posts won't fit in 140 characters. I am not at my best in short bursts; I am at my best telling long, rambling stories that set up an atmosphere. (Kazz once compared me to Garrison Keillor. I'm pretty sure that was after he kicked that beer can into the back of my head.)

On texting, well, my initial opinion of it is pretty much what Samuel L Jackson had to say about it on Boondocks (NSFW):

But that's because I have a simple, 12-button flip phone. I understand that texting's a lot quicker if you've got a touchscreen or a keyboard, and I understand its value for quick, asynchronous, precise communication. It's not a replacement for a phone call, it's a replacement for voicemail. And voicemail sucks.

As for why I don't have a smartphone: Well, to start with, I've always been a horsepower guy. I sit at a computer all day at work and then I go sit at another one at home. As such I've never really felt much need for a laptop (I got my first one for free maybe a year and a half ago and barely use it), let alone a smartphone.

On the other hand, I do like toys. And I can really see the appeal of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that fits in my pocket. Not to mention, you know, I am a computer scientist, and this is the future of computing.

So yeah, I've kinda hit a point where I want a smartphone.

But then you hit the predatory pricing.

I'm with Sprint. They've been good to me. But I will be goddamned if I'm going to enter into a two-year, $60-a-month-minimum contract with them.

I'm a temp. I don't know if I'll be employed come December. If I get hired, I'll probably buy a smartphone (just in time for all the Christmas sales!). But I'll also probably jump ship to Virgin or Cricket or one of the pay-as-you-go carriers.

Meantime, I've got this little Samsung flip phone I've had for some 5 years, that is serviceable as a phone and alarm clock and little else. For example, I discovered the other day that it doesn't even have a way to transfer the photos you take with it to a computer. Which I guess is okay, because I never use that camera anyway and it's scratched to fuck as it is.

(I discovered this after getting my picture with Phil LaMarr at Phoenix Comicon last month. That's not a very long story but it is a story for another day, I think.)