The Great Firewall of USA

If you have been reading many articles online, you would have heard of the “Great Firewall of USA”, also known as the Stop Online Piracy Act. The original intent of this act was to simply block any website who was trying to infringe on US company’s copyrights and patents, and to impose heavy penalties on those who infringe these rules. However, is it really that simple?

Google would have to censor search results.

Google would have to censor search results.

The act states that if an infringement was found, the US Attorney General can order US based companies to stop doing business with them. For example, Google would have to freeze the infringing company’s advertising account, VISA would have to stop providing financial services to the company, and more.

However, it seems like the implementation of such a solution is not so simple. As the bill would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the US to totally block access to a infringing website, much more drastic measures would have to be taken.

First of all, it would mean that the government would act as a middleman between users and the ISPs, or between ISPs and the Internet. The government would be able to scan through the network all the time to determine if any infringing websites are being let through. This would undermine current measures to secure the Internet with the new DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) specifications. The DNSSEC specification was created to protect end users from forged DNS data, which is becoming increasingly common nowadays.

Secondly, since the government would require ISPs to ‘know’ what sites its users are visiting, this opens up a huge debate whether this sacrifice of users’ privacy is actually needed. After all, this bill is only supposed to protect the revenue of US-based companies.

Thirdly, it is very hard, if not impossible to restrict this kind of content totally. It is known that there are simply too many ways to get around this kind of restricted content. Furthermore, current systems are not foolproof. Even the best algorithm in used today produces many false positives.

Lastly, it states that streaming copyrighted content without permission is a crime punishable by law (Section 201). A user can stream up to 10 movies or pieces of music in six months. If found guilty of streaming more than the allowed amount, a first time offender can be jailed for up to 5 years! As mentioned above, to detect a user streaming such content would also require deep packet inspection, which would intrude into the user’s privacy.

Currently, this act is supported by the MPAA, RIAA and other unions in the music and movie industry; and is opposed by web content providers like Google and Yahoo, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, the Business Software Alliance which includes Apple Inc. and Microsoft, human rights organizations and others.

Mozilla is also a opponent of this act.

Mozilla is also a opponent of this act.

So how ethical is this act?

If we analyze it from the utilitarian point of view, the affected parties are the end users, the organization whose revenue is being affected by piracy and the service providers. If this act is implemented, the users are the one who would ‘suffer’ the most, as everyone is being criminalized. A user would not be able to ‘opt-out’ of this system even if he/she does not infringe the law. As new systems are required to perform this deep packet inspection on each and every user’s Internet traffic to detect streaming of copyrighted material, the user’s privacy is also greatly affected. They would not know what kind of information would be recorded. Service providers would also not be too happy of this act as they would lose some revenue. For example, if a website using Google AdWords was found to be infringing this act, their account would be frozen, and Google (as a service provider) would not be able to earn the revenue which is generated from that website. However, the company whose revenue was being affected by piracy would benefit. This is as the act would reduce the amount of piracy which is going on in the US. However, this impact is limited as it is very hard for users to return to their old ways of buying products the traditional way. Therefore, from this analysis, the only group which would be happy is the company whose revenue was affected.

My thoughts.

As far as protecting IP is important, this act is clearly not the right way to do it. It raises too many issues which are currently not an issue. Furthermore, it seems that this act is only made in favour of the companies whose revenue are affected. This is clearly not a national security issue where individuals have to consider if their rights were more important than the nation’s security. Also, if this act gets passed, the government has every reason to pass a similar act which “protects national security (by banning government critics)” or “protects certain groups from unwanted websites like pornography”. All this would lead to unwanted censorship of valid websites.

A reason why this is happening might be because companies are not willing to change their strategies to cope with the increase in piracy. Let’s take the music industry for example. They adapted to the new methods of doing business on the Internet (thanks to Apple Inc.), and thus music piracy is almost dead.

Thus, I believe that protecting Intellectual Property is important, but this act is not the best way to do it. Businesses have to know that times have changed, and their old method of controlling everything is not working anymore. Thus, the best way is to research and evolve their businesses to suit the future.

Renren more appealing than Facebook?

Renren is a very popular social networking site in China, and it is very similar to Facebook in almost all aspects. However, there are certain unique features only unique to Renren, which makes it stands out as compared to Facebook. The only downside of Renren is the fact that it’s only in Mandarin, whereas Facebook is in English and hence more internationally recognized. Nonetheless, the points that will be mentioned below are reasons why Renren might be more appealing than Facebook, especially if Renren were to launch an International version.

Facebook has a feature that allows users to share their thoughts with friends, as well as a feature to comment on their friend’s wall posts. However, these features are only meant for short messages, as posts are limited to a fixed amount of characters. Thus it is impossible for users to give a very detailed account of what they have to say and share. In addition, Facebook posts are very disorganized, with friends leaving their comments anywhere in a conversation and distorting the flow of the conversation. Renren on the other hand, offers a platform for their users to post longer and more structured journals. It is a feature very similar to LiveJournal, where users are entitled to an almost infinite word limit in a single post. It has a very organized structure and is easy to use. Having this feature also encourages users to write more. In a virtual world of friends, users’ confidence in writing will only improve with their help and encouragement. No doubt, it encouraged people to write more.

Social networking sites have taken the extra effort to help aid groups with emergency needs. In Facebook, many people have created groups or fan pages to help campaign in important activities. However, these pages are inactive most of the time, as people who do not understand the importance of the page would not visit them. Renren saw the reasons why people could not be bothered and thus took several actions to improve on this matter. Whenever a person takes an extra effort to do their part for those in need (the victims of the recent tsunami, earthquakes or floods) by visiting the campaigning page and donating in the form of monetary donations, or by buying digitized “gifts”, or by leaving a post to show their support and sympathy, will be rewarded with an icon beside their name. This icon will arouse others curiosity and thus indirectly spread the campaigning effort. Also, for every visit a campaigning site has, Renren will donate a cent to the various organisation. There are many other ideas that Renren has and it has been proven very effective in handling such efforts.

Just like Friendster, Renren allows users to see who had visited them. The reason why Facebook might not have this feature is probably because of the fact that others feel they do not have the privacy of viewing their friend’s profile privately. However, this feature is effective in eliminating “stalkers” and makes the whole site more sociable and cohesive.

However, here is a reason why people might not want to use Renren.

Renren is a social networking site which is made in China. Thus, there is a lot of control by the Government of China. Everyone knows that the Great Firewall of China has been extremely effective in filtering out content which is not supposed to be accessed in China, and Renren is also susceptible to this problem. Renren would filter out posts which are deemed to be derogatory to the Government of China, thus limiting the amount of free speech a person would enjoy. This kind of control is not present in Facebook. This is a major selling point of social networks outside China, and this is also why China blocks so many social networks. Thus, the target audience of Renren is only limited to citizens of China.

In conclusion, both of these social networking sites have different target audience. Therefore, if they learn from one another, the world of social networking would be a much better one for everybody.Hand shake

Renren more appealing than Facebook?

Renren is a very popular social networking site in China, and it is very similar to Facebook in almost all aspects. However, there are certain unique features only unique to Renren, which makes it stands out as compared to Facebook. The only downside of Renren is the fact that it’s only in mandarin, whereas Facebook is in English and hence more internationally recognised. Nonetheless, the points that will be mentioned below are reasons why Renren might be more appealing than Facebook.

1) Encourage users to write more

Facebook has a feature that allows users to share their thoughts with friends, as well as a feature to comment on their friend’s wall (post). However, these features are only meant for short messages, as posts are limited to a fixed amount of words. Thus it is impossible for users to give a very detailed account of what they have to say and share . In addition, it is also highly unlikely that it will be organised, with the possibility of friends leaving their comments, distorting the flow of the structure. Renren on the other hand, offers a platform for their users to post longer and more structured journals. It is a feature very similar to livejournal, whereby users are entitled to an almost infinite word limit in a single post. It has a very organise structure and is easy to use. Having this feature also encourages users to write more. In a virtual world of friends, users’ confidence in writing will only improve with their help and encouragement. No doubt, it encouraged people to write more.

2) Efforts to aid victims/communities in need

Social networking sites have taken the extra effort to help aid groups with emergency needs. In Facebook, people have created group or fan page to help campaign in any important activities. However, these pages are most of the time inactive, and people who don’t understand the importance just don’t have the time to visit such pages. Renren saw the reasons why people could not be bothered and thus took several actions to improve on this matter. Whoever takes an extra effort to do their part for those in need (Tsunami, earthquake or flood victims), like visiting the campaigning page and donate (in the form of just purely leaving donations or buying digitize “gifts”) or leave a post to show their support and sympathy, will be rewarded with an icon beside their name. This icon will arouse others curiosity and thus indirectly spread the campaigning effort. Peer pressure might also be a possibility. Also, for every visit a campaigning site has, Renren will donate a cent to the various organisation. There are many other ideas that Renren has and it has been proven very effective in handling such efforts.

3) Ability to see who visits you

Just like Friendster, Renren allows users to see who had visited them. The reason why Facebook might not have this feature is probably because of the fact that others feel they do not have the privacy of viewing their friend’s profile privately. However, this feature is effective in eliminating “stalkers” and makes the whole site more sociable and cohesive.

These are just a few reasons why Renren might be more appealing than Facebook. Of course, there are a lot of similar debates out there that’s ongoing now. But given the fact that both these social networking sites have different target audience, if they learn from one another, the world of social networking would be a much better one for everybody.

21st Century Bullies

Cyber bullying was first mentioned by Bill Besley, who defines it as “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.”

Over the years, cyber bullying has subsequently been defined as “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person”.

Bullying comes in the form of aggressive behaviour. It consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal and physical. Bullying has long been a problem in school or at work, but was usually confined to the school yard or hallway. But with the technologies now, bullying is so much easier than it was before with sms-es, emails, social networking sites and an unlimited audience online. Traditional bullies had to let their victims see them and could only gain the support of friends who were around. But now, cyber bullies can humiliate, threaten, and belittle their victims without their identity being known, and they can have an audience of thousands. No doubt, victims of cyber bullying in society are mostly the young, particularly students.

In the short video attached below, 13 year old Megan Meier hanged herself after being a victim of cyber bullying. Even her mum, whom Megan thought would have sided her, reprimanded her for her mistakes, and that she had no one else to blame but herself for being a victim of cyber bullying.

Megan is not the only victim of cyber bullying today. As mentioned earlier, cyber bullying is so much easier and convenient now and on top of that, the bullies can remain anonymous. It is difficult, or what I would say impossible, to stop cyber bullying. Maybe for a country that is almost 100% literate and educated, and spends a lot advertising on being courteous and kind, is free from cyber bullying?

Well, maybe not… Singapore have our own cyber bullying case as well.. This images were posted on The Straits Times Stomp, a popular local website, on 05 Novenmber 209 and 30 January 2010 repectively.

Arrogant ACJCians mock and cyber-bully ‘O’ level students on FB

Cyber bully mocks classmate and defaces her picture on blog

In addition, this website has more cases of cyber bullying in Singapore.

http://www.asiaone.com/specials/cyberBully/

Ethics

According to Kantianism Theory, this act is obviously a wrong act. It is never anyone’s duty or obligation to bring emotional harm to others. The abuser is obviously making use of the abused as a means to his ends, his pleasure. In addition, according to Virtue Ethics, a virtuous agent would definitely find cyber bullying a wrong action. A person with normal character and morals will know that there is no benefit to gain from such a disgraceful act.

It is not that governments around the world are standing idle, regarding cyber bullying. They are in fact trying very hard to combat this form of bullying. However, cyber bullying is like a viral problem. It is nearly impossible to eliminate. A top-down approach is probably not the way to go.

For me, I believe that the best way to combat Cyber Bullying in school, is firstly, for teachers themselves to pledge against cyber bullying. Some teachers surprisingly cyber bully too, by making sarcastic remarks of their students’ work online. Then, it is important for teachers to know exactly the different characters and behaviours of each of their students. It is important for teachers to know what exactly is happening in school as they are the only ones who know what kind of students they have in their class. Teachers can identify very easily those that are always alone or troubled, and those that are always in a group mocking others. Many, as I’ve come across, chose to turn a blind eye over these matters as they feel that it is not important or relevant to them. I find this really unacceptable.

Personally, I’ve witnessed many traditional bullying and cyber bullying in school. It is really devastating for the victims, especially when they have no one to turn to. Being friendly and outgoing, I always have many friends in school and have never been ostracised. Yet, I feel for this victims. Sometimes, I make an effort to reach out to these victims by talking to them, and tell my friends who bully to stop their nonsense too, which normally they will. But my actions alone cannot do much. And to say the truth, I don’t want to start a fight make a scene with my friends too.

On the whole, I feel that there is no concrete solution to cyber bullying yet.. But parents and teachers especially, should spend more time understanding and listening to those who are troubled, and make a stand. This is a bottom up approach, and the best, I feel.


To end of this post, here is an anti-cuber bullying advertisement.

IT and its reliability…

Ever since the IT industry was founded in the mid-20th century, people have learnt to tap into the seemingly limitless boundaries of computing to do tasks at a speed and efficiency that no one at that time could imagine. This led people to become reliant on it, needing it for their work, life and play. With the introduction of the Internet, people started to live their life on the Internet with games and social networking sites. Also, recent developments allowed people to have an always-on internet connection so that workers could always have access to their email no matter where they are. However, as we are going to discuss later, IT is not always reliable.

There are a few examples to show that IT is not always reliable, and it affects many people who use IT. A few of the notable “fails” of IT reliability are shown below.

1) All the viruses that exist on the Internet
Internet viruses have been around for a very long time. Every year, malware writers become “smarter” in developing malware, using new social engineering tricks to get users to install their malware. All these do no good to end users, who have to constantly remind themselves of the dangers of using a computer.

Social-engineered malware are becoming more commonplace.

Social-engineered malware are becoming more commonplace.

2) OCBC and DBS ATM and eBanking downtime
Both DBS and OCBC faced a few hours of downtime this year. Consumers could not access their eBanking account or use the ATMs around the island. Furthermore, the NETS network was also affected by this outage. All this caused great inconvenience to both end users and businesses. OCBC said that the outage was triggered by a hardware fault.

Both DBS and OCBC's ATMs went down earlier this year.

Both DBS and OCBC's ATMs went down earlier this year.

3) The fall of the PlayStation Network
In May 2011, the hacker group Anonymous hacked into Sony’s PlayStation network and managed to obtain a copy of their user database. The database included customers credit card details and their CVV, a special code number which was supposed to prevent misuse of a person’s credit card. After Sony found out about this breach, they took the whole network down to try to secure it. This whole process took 24 days. This caused a massive outrage in the gamer community where consumers have trusted Sony with their credit card details.

Sony's PSN went down for 24 days in May-June 2011

Sony's PSN went down for 24 days in May-June 2011

4) The BlackBerry outage
In September 2011, a hardware failure also caused a massive outage of the BlackBerry network in certain parts of Europe and North America. This caused a great inconvenience on their customers; especially since a large portion of BlackBerry’s users are enterprise users. This outage might cause them a huge loss in profits especially since users are not able to access their email which goes through the BlackBerry Network. This also let to many people realizing that even though a system might seem to have 100% uptime, there are times that the system might go down.

BB's network went down, resulting in great inconvenience.

BB's network went down, resulting in great inconvenience.

5) The NUS SOC Network Outage
Also a victim of the unreliability of technology, the NUS SOC Network suffered some downtime in October. Although the impact of this was limited to students in SOC, NUS, it also caused some inconvenience to students who relied on certain systems within the NUS network to get their work done.

So how reliable is technology really?

Many systems give a 99% uptime guarantee, but is 99% really enough? This would mean that out of every 100 days, 1 day is “reserved” for downtime, amounting to a total of about 3.5 days of downtime a year. It might seem like a small number, but that 3 days might make or break someone’s business.

There are many measures companies have tried to use to counter this problem. However, they are still not able to make sure everything would be 100% reliable as there are always threats to uptime. As seen in the above examples, threats can come from anywhere be it external (hacking attempts), internal (hardware failures) or other unforeseen circumstances like natural disasters.

network_cable_cut_off

Therefore, IT managers have to implement backup systems in preparation for these cases. Also while a system is down, the best way to get around it is by the traditional way of doing things. For example, if your email goes down, you might need to send snail mail instead. This is one of the best, albeit not the most efficient way to do things.

However, we cannot just get rid of technology altogether! Although it can be unreliable at times, it improves efficiency in an order which is not possible without technology. It has also (arguably) improved our lives with all the new content that is available to us. If a company were to drop their email system just because it went down for a few days, they would ultimately lose more business than when they were with it.

In conclusion, technology is important in our daily lives and it affects the way we live, work and play. We simply cannot get rid of it totally. However, we must always remind ourselves that technology is not fool proof and we might need to know of a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

Even Blog is too much now?

“When is the last time that you read a whole book?”

“Hm…… Let me see…… Hm…… Sorry. I cannot remember.”

This kind of situation is so true today. This world is feeding us with incredible amount of information every day. IPhone sends us push notifications just seconds after some event takes place. We seem to digest information well and we are happy to be more ‘knowledgeable’ with the help of modern technology. Hang on! Is this really the case?

How does this happen?

When we have questions, we seldom consult others or refer to a book. The most common way is to ‘Google’ it. Then you may get thousands of entries at your fingertips, some are useful while some are just rubbish (and you may not even be able to tell!). Having realized this situation, in 2008, the famous American writer Nicolas Carr questioned this situation in his article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ He argues that Internet plays a vital role in changing our cognition ability today. It seems that people are being more and more short focused and think with less and less depth. Following this, a lot of studies have been done on this subject.

PT-AO829A_Cover_DV_20100604193223

(Left part is traditional thinking while Right part is the consequence of being interfered by the Internet)

Personally speaking, I think it is the way that human race evolves in order to adapt to external changes. For example, when it is getting cold, we put on clothes to keep our body warm. It is human nature. Similarly, when there is too much information, we would evolve again to adapt. We adjust ourselves to receive all kinds of information at a fast pace. By this, I am not judging whether it is a good evolution or not. Rather, it is just a bitter fact that we all have to face. There is no one to blame for this situation. It is not the fault of ordinary users, nor the ones who bring us Google, Wikipedia and so on.

However, things seem to go extreme now. Think about this, what is the last time that you read a whole blog post? Hm…… It seems that most of us cannot even do this! What we would do is that we read the beginning, interesting or not, we scroll down and read the ending. Then it would be marked as ‘read’ and ‘message received’. Having seen this trend, RenRen introduced its new feature earlier this year, called ‘RenRen Xiao Zhan’. ‘Xiao Zhan’ literally means little stations in Chinese. Launched in July, it is an extended site from RenRen main site and is described as ‘light blogging’. How ‘light’ is qualified to be a ‘light blog’? Well, in most popular ‘Xiao Zhan’s, most of the content is just pictures with occasionally a few lines.

QQ截图20111111201920

(main interface of ‘RenRen Xiao Zhan’)

What can we do?

Having mentioned above, short focus and less depth of thinking are more like an intuitive adaption that we takes in order to live in the digital age. It may be described as a price that we must pay for embracing so much information every day.

So first of all, if we are to resolve the problem but still enjoying large volume of information, the very first step that we should take is to increase awareness about this issue. Clearly, if people are not even aware of the problem, they will not take any actions to make a change.

Following this, there seems to be no uniform solution that could be carried out for everyone. First of all, not all people view this as a problem. There are people who value the quantity and variety of ideas more important than quality and depth. Consequently, even being informed of such a problem, this group of people would not bother to change anything. Secondly, for people who do want to make a change, there are no compulsory or ‘guaranteed-to-work’ courses of actions that can help. If one does realize the existence of such a problem, he may probably cut off his Internet time deliberately or try to force himself to read a book.

What should we do for the YOUGHS?

The issue that I would like to bring up here is whether we should do anything to help the youths from being affected by such a problem. The word YOUTHS here refers to adolescents under 18 years old. In today’s society, Internet is so ubiquitous and children start to embrace the Internet much younger than we did, which poses more challenges on the issue here. If something is to be done to protect the youths, there certainly would be some censorship involved, such as monitor of their time on the Internet or censor the type of sites that they are visiting frequently.

child-pc

(How today’s kids grow up)

The reason for ‘yes, we should do something’ is that they are still growing both physically and mentally. Unlike adults, they have not fully developed their own sense of values and thus they may lack of essential ability of judgement. In a word, they are more easily to be unconsciously affected by external environmental factors. The reason for ‘no, we should leave them alone’ is that they should be given their own right to choose their own life and should not be interfered.

This kind of question, or dilemma, has been heatedly debated during the lectures. From the youths’ point of view, fortunately I still remember my life at that age, they certainly want freedom. In fact, if they feel like being treated as a kid and not having enough rights, they would repel. From the parents’ point of view, I suppose most of them would be happy if their children can spend less time on the Internet and spend that time reading a book. Speaking for the whole society, it is very contradictory. It should be acknowledged that everyone should have equal rights to choose what they do and censorship violates one’s right. Meanwhile, sophisticated people are needed by the society. In order to make any progress, we would count on people with great minds, instead of those who think without enough depth.

Personally speaking, I value the latter part more than the former one. So I support the stand that something should be done in order to protect our youths. It could be done at a global level, such as campaigns to raise awareness, as well as at every family, in which parents come in and interfere.

Summary

In a nutshell, whether it is a progress or a regression that we are experiencing in this digital age seems to have no definite conclusion at this point of time. This is mainly because different people value different aspects of people, such as depth versus diversity. However, I argue that Internet is exerting a negative impact on our thinking and more importantly, there should be intervene to protect the youths from being affected.

Cyber war — world war III

Recently, as I discover TED talks is quite impressive, so I decided to find out some meaningful topic to argue. Interestingly enough, I randomly click on this talk:

This link consist of the summary of the crisis between China and the U.S.regarding cyberattacks against the American company Google, mentioned in the talk:
http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google-china-attacks/

The speaker also mention about the incident happen In 1982, in the middle of the Cold War in Soviet Siberia, a pipeline exploded with a burst of 3 kilotons, the equivalent of a fourth of the Hiroshima bomb, was actually the result of a CIA sabotage operation,in which they had managed to infiltrate the IT management systems of that pipeline. This link contain the revealed by Thomas Reed, Ronald Reagan’s former U.S. Air Force Secretary :
http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/it-strategy/2004/03/01/us-software-blew-up-russian-gas-pipeline-39147917/

Times magazine mention about cyber war

Time magazine mention about cyber war

These example are just some significant example that the speaker find out. There are numerous cyberwar going around now. Surely you did not feel there are any war going on, but perhaps, your country, your company, or you yourself are under attack now, thats why cyberattack are so horrible. It is not again a virtual world that are unrelated with our physical world again, what one did at cyberspace can really cause a great disaster to our real world, just like the example above. You could not predict who and what will be after you until the time come as all of it are virtual, in total darkness. Even something really happen, you may not be able to find out the offender. If you feel like I am threatening you,  go google out cyber attack or cyber war online, you can get quite a lot of news, recently the news is about the Israel government website being hack. But possibly when you check it out, this news is outdated. My country also being hacked before. It is really nothing new. Why these being attacked country did not take out any action on these hacker? isn’t they threatening? is it because identity unknown, can’t trace? or any other reasons? who knows?

Possibly, Albert Einstein might have realise the harm human can do will not be limited with those bomb, aircraft and nuclear weapons, there will be these emerging cyber weapons in the World War III, that’s why he quote: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” In fact, cyber weapons have the ability to connect and link up everyplace and everyone compare to other weapons and because of this, its impact is so huge.

Albert Einstein Quote

Albert Einstein Quote

Richard A. Clarke, former presidential adviser on cybersecurity, says that: “Devastating cyber attacks could destroy power grids, banking networks or transportation systems. The U.S. military is entirely dependent on computer systems and could end up in a future conflict in which troops trot out onto a battlefield ‘and nothing works.’ ” Please follow this link for full article.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45199096/ns/technology_and_science-security/#.TrlI1vTDVGV

If you don’t understand why is it so, and still think that nowadays army are training under the hot sun, armed with weapons, you are wrong. Look at this picture

USA army using computer in an operation

USA army using computer in an operation

and study this words:
They use satellite images and computer generated images to keep track of targets and vehicles. Rockets have been retrofitted with computers and a computer chip so that no target could elude them. Even tanks and armored vehicles have a computer on board that provides them with the precise location where they are and the location of the designated target. Computers have proven useful while in the service of the military forces and they have been implemented in every aspect of the military life. For instance, computers based scenarios, are made when planning an assault on a specific target and according the result, commanders decide if the operation can be deployed or not.

Even soldiers are trained in simulators that are governed by computers. They care tested to see if they can handle extreme conditions, such as stress. There is no limit to the ways a computer can be used and the army will ever stop using it. After all, most of the technological developments have been because of computers.

To add on, you must visit this website and try it out. Then you will be shock at how USA government recruit young Americans using such attractive way.

America's Army 3 wallpaper

America's Army 3 wallpaper

AA3 screen shot, looks real right?

AA3 screen shot, looks real right?

http://www.americasarmy.com/

Feel eager to become one of them? They even have The Army Experience Center, in USA before, all of these is free.

This strategy is really effective, however, protest for this seems endless. Below is only one of the blog that describe the protest that make AEC shut down.
Children are not born violent, they are made violent. They are training an army of kids that conditioned to associate violence with fun, as part of “normal life”. Could the video game addict become conditioned to shoot or hit whenever provoked? Could these video games trigger what we call “instant replay,” so that the player is conditioned to pull a trigger when faced with a real-life problem? Of course, isn’t it what they wanted them to be? But is it ethic?

350 years ago, people are still concern about the military innovation of the day
60 years ago, new aircraft and tank technologies emerge,
30 or 40 years ago, nuclear weapons arise.

And now, we have cyber weapons. What is cyber weapons? Hard to tell, can be nothing, or can be everything, appear in different type like a pendrive, a server, a robot, a computer… Did they seem harmless to you. They cost life, maybe indirectly. Some country claimed that they are building cyberwar unit for defensive purpose, but who know? Cyberwar unit can be both defensive and offensive. There are many type of military robot being invented too. Military robots are autonomous robots or remote-controlled devices designed for military applications. The use of robots for military combat, especially when such robots are given some degree of autonomous functions is a great concerned. Maybe what happened in the movie like I, Robot, The Terminator, Star War might turn out to be true. Army is trained in cyberspace too.

Military robots

Military robots

Many organisation, like the FBI is also working out on cyber attack. People become more and more concern about it. Cyber weapons do not replace conventional or nuclear weapons — they just add a new layer to the existing system of terror and might cause more conflict between different party.

Is Music Piracy Dead?

In the early 2000s, whenever I visited my relatives and had a peek at their computer, there is always one common icon – the original BitTorrent client – and half the time it was running and downloading music. Recently though, we hear some retailers of music proclaiming that consumers had bought 16 billion songs, and a record number of singles are sold every year. What has happened to music piracy?

Screenshot of the Original BitTorrent Client

Screenshot of the Original BitTorrent Client

Here’s a background of music piracy. Music piracy was around ever since the days of the tape recorders. However, it was not a problem then as making duplicates of a piece of music is a time-consuming process, requiring the same amount of time as listening to the record itself. All this changed with the advant of the computer. Users could make duplicates of their discs at a very high speed. Furthermore, a popular file format known as MP3 which allowed for highly compressed files which were “indistinguishable to the original” emerged. The late 1990s saw the rise of peer-to-peer networks like Napster. These networks allowed users to share their MP3 files easily and allowed other users to download them at no cost. All these further ate into the record label companies’ profits. However it seems like the event which made the most impact on the music industry recenty is the invention of the iPod. Although it was not the first MP3 player on the market, it was the one which revolutionised the way we would listen to music. A small device which could easily fit into your pocket could hold up to 1,000 songs, it was nothing that devices of that time could offer. However with this came many new problems. Consumers need to rip their own CDs in order to listen to them inside these devices. This proved to be quite a hassle for some consumers who then turned to downloading music illegally. During the period of the early MP3 players, there was no means that consumers could purchase music online legally. This further caused a decline in album sales. Meanwhile, consumers continued to download music illegally thru Napster, BitTorrent and others.

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However all these started to change when Apple finally opened their iTunes online music store in 2003. It boasted a collection of 200,000 songs (not albums) and charged a reasonable price of $0.99 USD. It proved a hit amongst consumers, who bought more than 1,000,000 tracks in the first 5 days of the store’s launch. However, piracy was still rampant due to the fact that the iTunes store was only available in certain countries.

iTunes is still not supported in many countries.

iTunes is still not supported in many countries.

As time progressed, the sales of singles have boomed (at least 117m in 2009), Apple sold its 10 billionth song, the number of MP3 players have boomed (Apple sold 275 million iPods through 2010), there are more than 1 legal means to get music online and the number of music pirates have fallen. Why is this so?

Data from PublicBT tracker, 2011

Data from PublicBT tracker, 2011

A reason why this is so is the fact that legal music is now so much easier to obtain at a reasonable cost. Consumers did not need to buy a whole album. This improved convenience allows users to purchase songs selectively. Furthermore, many of these online stores allow users to purchase songs without Digital Rights Management built in. Therefore, users are not locked to a single device to listen to their music.

In 2011, Apple will roll out a new service called iTunes Match, where users can pay an annual US$25 subscription fee for this service. This service would compare the music available in a user’s iTunes library with those available on the iTunes store. If a match is found, that song would be made available for legal downloading via iTunes. They would even “upgrade” the files if the files on a user’s library are not as high quality as the ones provided. All music which are in a user’s library are applicable for this service, even those which they ripped themselves, or have obtained from dubious sources.

iTunes Match comparison chart

iTunes Match comparison chart

This move actually allows users to legitimize their entire music library!

So, how ethical is this move?

The few affected parties are the consumers, the retailer (Apple in this case), other record label companies and the artists.
A consumer has to pay for this service, and the retailer have struck deals with the other record labels before providing this service. By striking deals with those record labels, the artists would get their share of the profits (no, I would not discuss if the profit sharing is fair). Apple, being the provider of the service, also benefits from this service as they are collecting subscription fees from users, while users stand to benefit from this move as they would be able to access their music from a computer with iTunes or from a compatible product. Thus, if we analyse this with respect to the Utilitarianism theory, all parties stand to benefit from this service, so it is ethical.

However this would not solve all the problems as only a few are able to access these services. Also, there would always be those who have access to these services but choose not to subscribe to them.

Therefore back to the question is music piracy dead? I feel that the problem of music piracy has been greatly reduced, due to the new methods of obtaining music legally, but music piracy would never be totally stopped due to the limitations mentioned.

Sources: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/02/where-have-the-pirates-gone/http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/wwdc-2011-apple-icloud-will-be-free-itunes-match-replaces-pirated-songs/49999

Renren–the copycat

It is no secret that Renren started as a copycat of Facebook. It was six years ago when Wang Xing imitated facebook and created Xiaonei (Renren’s original name) in the dream of “making a better place of the world”, as Wang Xing said so. Six years later, when we look at what renren has become along the way, we find that nearly every step it took is just another imitation. The picture below is a creative wall in facebook for its employees to write anything that come to their mind. Right in the left bottom corner, our old familiar friend shows up.

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I once chatted with a friend who works in facebook. I asked him,”Do you know that there is a Chinese facebook here?” He chuckled,”yeah, sure. We not only know about it, but also do some little experiments to test their imitation rate. For example, one time we changed the color of css to a very small extent that no human eye can recognize it, and then we examine the time takes for renren to follow this change”.

Does it sound ridiculous to you? Why does renren keep imitating? Let us first think about the reasons why imitation started at the first place. When a good creation invented, the society can gain the maximum benefits if everyone has the ability to enjoy the conveniece of the invention, and that gives rise to imitation. Soon, there  will  appear numbers of the copies, which will be eliminated to only limited number  by natural competition if no government protection exists.  Moreover, we should take note that “inaccessibility” here is the most important factor that contributes to the popularization of certain creation. It is the inaccessibility of facebook in China that contributes a lot to the large scale of renren nowadays.

It seems like we have deviated from the topic; however, what I am trying to say is that renren’ first imitation is natural, but the latter ones are of no point. They do not have to do exactly what facebook did. It seems like imitation has already been a habit for it.

A CASE


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Have you ever heard of a famous case in China, the battle of geniune and sham kaixin website, which has lasted for years? Renren and the fake kaixin (kaixin.com) are both subsidiaries of a company called Qianxiang. The real kaixin (kaixin001.com) is another social networking site started by a very small start-up, and it were well recerived for its little games. It has attracted thousands of adults in the workplace compared to renren’s user—college student. Kaixin has since grown into a strong competitor of renren. Surprisinly, the strategy renren took to fight back is to buy the ownership of kaixin.com and create an totally identical website as kaixin001.com. Because of the trick, many new customers are attracted to the fake kaixin and never knew about it. Qianxiang then combines the fake kaxin and renren’s accounts in sync. It only took months to for renren to allure the customers back. As the geniune kaixin sued in court, it was 30,000,000 number of users that renren has stolen from it. The real kaixin has won the case, but the loss is grievious. It was no longer a strong rival of renren.

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Some people rebuked renren for being so cruel to a start-up, others are indifferent because ”it is business”, but is it right for renren to do so? Let us evaluate on an ethical ground.

Utilitarian analysis

The stakeholders involved in this case are users, real kaixin, sham kaixin and other companies in the social networking industry. For the majority of users, it may seem no different to use the real or the fake one. However, in the long run, the creativity may be restricted if new start-ups are in disadvantage. Thus, users might have fewer interesting websites to enjoy. (a harm). Nevertheless, the value of a website increases as more people use it. Once the demand takes off, in other words, reached a tipping point, it will grow exponentially. As a result, if renren has more users, the users will enjoy more when networking (a benefit ). Looking from the industry’s point of view, creativity may be discouraged for small start-ups (a harm), but it is not necessary. The real kaixin has won the case, thus it may stimulate some legislation regarding imitation (a benefit). Then start-ups can grow in a more protected environment (a benefit). Last but not least, the benefit of real and sham kaixin has balanced themselves.

Hence, we conclude that it is ethical for the fake kaixin to do so.

Kantianism Analysis

The fake kaixin was treating the real one as a means to an end (attract more uses), so it was using the real kaixin for its own benefit, which disobeys the Kantian rule. Hence, it is not eithical.

We have reached opposite conclusion using the two theories. That is often the case when evaluation an action in reality. Here, I decide that despite the legal aspects, the fake kaixin is ethical although the action is not morally right in itself.

In conclusion, imitation is good way to learn and grow, but I hope renren can come up with something that truly original, and that is the real engine for a website that has the ambition of “making the world a better place.”

Slaves of renren?

When you are tired of all these online social stuff at some moment, have this idea—“Deactivate your account” ever occurred to you? For many of my friends, the answer is yes. They want to deactivate their accounts permanently or temporarily, maybe just for fun. OK, now, lets try. Click the account button -> deactivate my account. Simple enough, right? However, when you click the last button,a sentence will pop up:”You have successfully deactivated your account, but we are pleased to welcome you back anytime you want as long as you sign in using your username and old password again. All of your information will be preserved by renren including your photos, blogs, shares etc.” It means that you still can be searched and thus still exist in renren networks, the only difference is your home page will be locked for other viewers. Does this seem annoying to you when you really want to “disappear” but unable to do so?

privacy-online

In fact, a renren user do find it intolarable, so what he did was to appeal and write to  admin@renren.com four times stating clearly that he wanted all his data to be cleared up. His appeals lasted two month, and kept receiving vague replies with no actual effective taken to completely eliminate all his information in renren. He then posted a blog in other website in which he angrily appealed: “Why should we becom renren’s slaves? Give my information back!”It occurs to me the first time that copies of us were made online, in particular, in renren. Should we have the ownership of  all these information? Should we have some rights to it?

privacy

The answer to this question is positive. Some people may argue that those kind of information may be useful to the government or other organizations. It helps to establish  more concise data about every user especially when most of them were registered using real names. Thus, when they commit a crime or some other things, those preserved data can be helpful to know more about the criminal, and therefore, contributes to a greater common good. In that case, although the user may be upset about losing control of his of her own information (a harm), the whole society will definitely be better off (a benefit). Hence, it is ethically right to do so. However, what should be noted is that the possibilies for a precise renren user involved in a crime is extremly low, thus in a more general case, being upset (a harm) will outweigh the total benefit of the society, let alone the possiblities of the information being misused (another harm).  Consider all this utilitarian perspective, we conclude that “preserving” users data without their content is unethical.

Furthermore, although we do not know the intention of renren, but at least we know that renren is not treating each of its users as an end, but rather a means to an unknown end. Hence, it is again unethichal using Kantian analysis.

Besides ethical aspect of it, let us now consider another question: what are these information used for? Are they kept just for the users’ convience? Clearly not, otherwise the above user’s account will be eliminated long ago. Then, what for? For nothing? We do not know about it yet, but there have been several cases in which renren were stongly criticized for leaking users’ information. Renren denied about the wrongdoing. Nevertheless, these cases regarding privacy violating have attracted some lawyers’ attention. After closely examining the Privacy Contract stated by renren upon register, we find such a statement: “renren may colaborate with a third party to serve our users, in this case, if the third party agree to take the same responsibility as renren to protect our users’ privacy, renren has the right to provide the third party with users information”.(as shown in the picture below)

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A lawyer named Ma Yuanchao in Shanghai pointed out frankly that this kind of contract that provides users information without explicitly informing users the exact third party is deemed as an typical unequal contract. So, is it ethical?

No. The contract is not ethical.

privacy-et-img

let us now analyse using utilitarian theory. With the existence of such contract, renren is enable to convenienly cooperate with a third party to perhaps offer better service to all of the users (a benefit). Also, with the help of personal information, renren can taylor the service to each user and increase the total enjoyment of the users (again a benefit). However, this action causes most of the users anger about it (harm), and also the possibilities of abuse of the information(harm). So it is unethical.

In a communal living society, users’ privacy should not be overlooked. It should be mentioned that renren users’ informaiton is not public records nor public information although it can be viewed by other users. It is personal information. It is open to public only when the creator wants to. Thus, the user has the right to decide who can view all these content, in other words, the user should control the accessbility of those online personal information. By passing all that to a third party without the user content violates the users right to privacy. Hence, it is not ethical.

The two analysis above all prove that this is not right. In addition,Renren is again treating its users as a means to an end, ie. Better service. It is not right by Kantianism either. Thus, it is unethical and should not be done.

So here, I want to appeal as many of the users who has appealled that  “we want our right back”.I hope that the legal systems can take actions against the unequal and unethical contract and all the violations. I hope renren community can become a more autonomous networking site.