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Facebook: Your one stop shop for a class action lawsuit


So it seems that Facebook is being sued in Texas over the use of members pictures and names to sell merchandise in Beacon ads, specifically in Blockbuster movie rentals. While this might cause some problems for Beacon ads generally, this particular suit is based on a the Videotape Privacy Protection Act which prevents videostores from disclosing your rental history.

It’ll be interesting to see, where, if anywhere this lawsuit goes and if it raises other legal question (say right of publicity) about Beacon ads in general.

Reflectin’: Live Blog for Monday 4.14.08


Forward: From Wikipedia; The chattering classes is a generally derogatory[1] term often used by conservative propagandists and political commentators to refer to a politically active, socially concerned and highly educated elite section of the “metropolitan middle class[1], especially those with political, media, and academic connections. It is currently applied to persons with alleged leftist leanings, but its initial use by British right wing polemicist Frank Johnson, appeared to include a wider range of pundits.[1]

Today, we’re talking about Morality on the Web! 


Professor Weinberger [DW]

-persuades us all to do the reading for tomorrow: it should be very interesting.
-warns us all that he’s going to be ruthless about managing class discussion time today.  No stop offs for (My note: “Are we all in the Matrix” conversations.  We are all in the Matrix, by the way.  But that’s for another time and another place.  Matter of fact, we ARE in another time and in another place.  I am the Walrus.)


DW draws a knife and a corkscrew and asks us which of these technologies is more moral.

                Well, one student replies, we don’t normally ascribe morality to inanimate objects.

DW. asks the same question about a condom and a flamethrower.  Which is more moral? 

DW. asks the same question about a virus that kills only a racial minority.

                Student: “Making the virus would be immoral, but the virus itself would still be an inanimate object.”

                                DW.:  How does morality get into the design process if the object itself is inanimate?

Student A: It’s alright to talk about the morality of design but not the morality of the object itself. 

Student B: Designing the virus would set a chain of causal events into action that would eventually kill a racial minority.  That’s wrong.

Student C: Right, but if the virus leads to something positive, like using it to find a cure to a disease, the virus has a positive effect.  Thus, it’s not the inanimate object, but what it’s designed and used for that determines the sum-total morality of the instrument. 

DW.: We’re fairly happy with looking at technology as a system, from the intentionality of design all the way out to its intended impact.

Student D: Still it’s necessary to cut down negative uses at the initial design stage.  When you create that virus, you can legally prevent its use for negative things.

DW.: We want to be able to have discussions about whether particular technology is worth creating in moral terms by looking at these things as systems. 


General principles of Morality: Don’t Steal, Don’t Kill. 

DW. But each of these principles is kind of flexible. There are hypos in which each of these things is kind of justified.

                DW. Philosophers’ Source of general principles of Morality:

                Utilitarianism: Maximizing happiness or value.  

                DW. Should we maximize happiness in all cases?

                                Student A: No, same minority of people can get shafted. 

Student B: Right, we want to protect the minority because the minority can be you (Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance)

Student C: Utilitarianism doesn’t distinguish between different KINDS of good.  Apples and Oranges.  Can you give out enough candy bars to outweigh the fact that you’re torturing somebody? 

DW.’s phone rings.  His ring tone is a cash register chinging.  Cha-Ching.

DW.: What if we make up the case where the math makes it so that a happiness-monster, a group of people who are DEEPLY happy about some unfair situation?

Student: Well  if we derive a GREAT DEAL of happiness from protecting all citizens from unfair situations, that is, if you can place happiness and value into processes (Rule Utilitarianism), you can maintain utilitarianism as a method to protect justice and fairness. 

                Student: Is there any other conceivable basis for morality other than utilitarianism?

Schemes that aren’t Consequentialist:

Religious: A particular authority on these issues has told us that something is right and wrong

Human Rights: Morality comes from the essence of being human.  We have value as individuals because we are individuals

Human Dignity: utilitarianism is only valuable because it increases human dignity. 


DW.: We come into moral discussions with a sense of what’s right and wrong, and we’ll throw out principles (principles to apply to murky moral questions upon which we don’t have answers yet)  if they don’t match our moral intuitions.  We throw out utilitarianism if it leads to raping children. 

DW’s MAJOR QUESTION: Do our moral intuitions derive from general principles? 

DW. When we talk about whether or not it’s right to download music, do we resort to general principles or not? 

DW. We generally look at examples and analogize. (Professor Palfrey: Well lawyers’ reason by analogy a lot more than the Average Joe)

Student: Well, maybe we’re not making moral decisions when we download music.  We know it’s wrong and we do it.

DW.: There’s a terrible danger to intuitionism:

                There’s no process

                Anything can be justified. 

                Subjective principles

                Cultural, Historical principles

                                White man’s burden and Slavery

                Whatever you think is right is right->There’s no more morality

DW. Are lion’s immoral when they hunt cute things? 

                Student: they don’t have free will

So what are the requirements for a creature to be moral or not? (What distinguishes humans from the knife/screwdriver?)

Student: Free Will (BUT do we have free will?  Is there a difference between trained monkey and EVERY individual human?)

                                                Some element of control over actions

Student: But what if I only follow my moral intuitions when I’m not aware of a scheme?  Can a lion be moral if it acts morally on instinct (like, is a lion that’s nice and only takes life when it needs to more moral a lion who tortures its prey)?

Some Comedian once said that the only thing he learned from the Lion King is not to trust his shady uncle

                                                DW.: Free will is probably not enough to justify labeling something as moral. 

DW.: General hypothesis: Our moral scheme is undergirded by our intuitions about what’s right and wrong.                 

We use examples and analogize to import a sense of sympathy into our moral decisions.

When we talk about the moral realm, to be moral means to recognize that we share a world with others (if someone doesn’t recognize that there are other people with their own vested interests in what happens, that person is a lion or a psychopath [OR BOTH!  LION PSYCHOPATHS.  GREAT IDEA FOR A MOVIE]). 

Utilitarianism works as a moral scheme because we recognize that we’re in a shared world with valid, competing interests

The Architecture of Morality: Morality is composed of the basic assumption that we are creatures who share a world with others who also care about what happens to them

                                                So what’s at the heart of the Web’s architecture?


One interesting thing about the web is that it’s a linked structure.  Links are useful to point to other pages—other points of view.  The web’s architecture is consonant with the architecture of morality.  At some level of its architecture, there’s a recognition that there are other vested interests in what goes on.  There’s an assumption that we share.

Student Hypo: Does the NYTimes become more a part of the moral environment when it started to acknowledge, through its links, the existence of other points of view and vested interests?  (It did so originally through articles that reflect on other people, but do the links make it more moral)?

DW.: Yes.  Here, the NY Times here expanded its sympathy.  It became a greater moral entity (by moral, DW. means the NY times became better morally by expanding its “sympathy,” acknowledging the views of others.) 

Student Hypo: Doesn’t the linked architecture just reflect our current moral interactions?

DW.: Well, the web gives us a new domain in which we are able to expand our sympathies by linking to others

This is what a more fully, more sympathetic media would look like.  The web gives us a greater tool to expand our sympathies.  Taken on it’s own, it’s just stuff.  It’s still inanimate and a tool.  But once more, the definition of “Morality” we’re working with here is “The capacity to be moral” (Things are only what they are in cultural context.  The web was designed for a reason.  It’s not just some THING.  It’s a thing that has a purpose and a cultural purpose.  The web allows us to enact moral and immoral actions more thoroughly).  So DW.’s claim that the Web’s architecture makes it a more moral medium than television and radio really means that the Web allows us to enact or moral or immoral actions more thoroughly.

Student Counter args: The web enhances dehumanization (flaming in comment sections), and acts as an echo chamber

DW.  Yes. So, the question is if the Web’s architecture  oddly reflects the architecture of morality itself, does that necessarily have any effect on how we use the Web? Does it make any difference at all?

Kevin Parker mentions that Koalas are lazy after class.  I agree.  Koalas should get jobs. 






Whether Internet has fundamentally changed newspapers


Here is an interesting follow-up to last week’s discussion. An article notes how the expectation that the internet will democratize the nature of news and give room to alternative voices is not really being fulfilled. Instead, a study shows that the news agenda on online newspapers is narrowing; that many sites simply package news produced elsewhere; and that a few stories (war on Iraq and Presidential campaign) occupy 1/4 of total news.

Seems to suggest that online news sites are simply changing their model in peripheral ways (changing presentation of news by providing links to other sites, incorporating blogs and comments into websites etc) and they are ultimately catering to the demands of majority of readers. The power law distribution in the offline world appears to be replicated on the web. The article also notes that there is an another impact of accessing news online: it is increasing difficult for readers to find what they want without being distracted by ads.



The New York Times has an article today about how people who are Google-ing their names are reaching out to other people who also have their name.

I found this article very interesting. About a month ago, I received an e-mail from someone who had Googled my name. The story is that this person was formerly married to someone who had the same first name as me, and gained my last name through marriage. (For those of you who know my name in real life, you will recognize that neither my first nor my last name are particularly common, and together, my name is very rare.) He decided to write me to share the coincidences with my name, and, intrigued, I wrote him back. (Is this creepy??) He tells me he works in Iraq as a contractor, and also has a computer science background (it is obvious from a Google search of my name that I was a math and cs person). We’ve sent a few e-mails back and forth now.

It’s an interesting idea. What makes us think we have a connection to someone just because we have the same name? And what makes us immediately trust them?

Transparency and Fundraising Online (warm-up for politics online project)


Apparently the Clintons have decided to yield even more transparency after releasing their tax returns for the past 7 years. Now the Clinton campaign has unleashed a new technique for web fundraising. When you contribute online for the Pennsylvania primary, you can choose where you would like the money to go. The website, “MyPA” shows the campaigns’ progression in meeting goals for each category. The Clinton camp has been innovative; in the past there has been a musical contest, a chance to watch a debate with Bill and a chance to roll on the trail with Chelsea. Time will tell if this innovation can surpass Obama’s new million in a minute campaign, began by independent supporters.

Blogging: “The digital-era sweatshop”


Apparently, blogging can be hazardous to your health. Lawyer hours for far less pay…

Effective privacy disclosure on photo-sharing sites


On the heels of some discussion about whether disclosure notices can actually work, I encountered this example of what I view as effective “fine print”: while exploring Kodak Gallery’s new feature (which allows you to export slideshows from your Kodak Gallery albums to other photo and social networking sites on the Web — Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, etc.), I saw this message:

Remember that any pictures you include in a slideshow can be viewed and used by visitors to and other websites where you publish your slideshow, according to those websites’ terms. Please use care when deciding what pictures you include and where you publish your slideshow.

I think one thing that makes it effective is its use of non-legalese — it reads like another person is gently warning you to proceed ahead with some caution. Good job,

Comcast announces different strategy for managing traffic


The New York Times reports that Comcast plans to alter its approach to managing online traffic “by slowing the Internet speeds of its most bandwidth-hogging users when traffic is busiest” instead of targeting particular applications. The article starts out by describing this as a more “equitable” strategy. Query whether this will this alternative satisfy advocates of “net neutrality”?

Yahoo’s new site driven by desire to sell more targeted ads


I just saw this in the NYT and thought it was pretty timely. It suggests that Yahoo’s creation of this new site aimed at women was motivated by advertisers wanting to reach this demographic. It’s unclear whether the new site itself is the main form of “targeting” here — in the traditional sense, where ads are sent out based on the general audience of of the site/ TV show/ newspaper — or whether there will also be more specific targeting going on based on the web activity of the users of the new site. (I’m guessing the latter.)

I guess I see this as underscoring the importance of targeting to advertisers, and the importance of advertising to the business plans of big Web companies like Yahoo. Which makes the whole debate all the more salient! Companies really want to find better ways to reach consumers on the Web, and I think we need to come up with some reasonable means of making sure people’s privacy concerns aren’t stampeded in the process.

Live blogging for today (sorry for misspelling anyone’s name)


Discussing whether the marketing regulation that is the playing field currently (enforcement of contracts) is commensurable with the “chaos is good” position that Conner took in his video. Conner responds that this is ok, but says that he favors less top down regulation.

Mariel asks whether there is a good reason for allowing a company to collect data without an opt out policy. Kevin responds that companies shouldn’t be allowed to lie. Connor responds that there are private mechanisms to punish companies for lying online. Connor’s position is essentially that there is an area to resolve those types of disputes (litigation between private parties), but that there is no place for the FTC.

Kevin’s rejoinder: what is the default in that situation?
Connor responds: there is a private mechanism to deal with this (suggesting an invisible hand idea).

Aaron’s rejoinder: there is a problem with dealing with the problem of using private information after the information has been revealed. Although he does not have a particular regulation in mind, favoring ex post regulation that enforces benchmarks.

Richard: Likes Connor’s idea about getting people to be more savvy to how things are marketed to them. However, his experience and sense in general leads him to worry that just having that “wild westy” idea is probably not going to work. In response to what he’s worried about: Richard suggests that there isn’t a consensus. If it’s the case that we don’t care about what information is known about them, then great, but if people are making those decisions without realizing what information is given away and what is done w/ that information, (information asymmetry), then there is a problem.

Connor’s response: He likes that point, but his position depends on his belief that people will organize. Suggests that if people aren’t doing anything now, it may be because ppl expect the gov’t to respond.

Tom: The idea of people organizing is nice (maybe it works for the people in this room), maybe a good clearinghouse was created, but it won’t work on the large scale and that’s why there needs to be some government intervention. In response to what gov’t regulation: not more regulation, but some sort of way of making people aware of what’s going on. Maybe have the government set up the clearinghouse.

Sean: Supports what Mariel wants (and opt in and opt out option), but he also wants to customize ads so that users can indicate what they want. So that when someone breaks up w/ a significant other, they don’t suddenly get bombarded with “singles advertising”, but if a user is looking for shoes, then there should be a mechanism for getting ads for those shoes.

Professor Palfrey suggests that there is a push in that direction.

Mariel: Thinks there is a huge collective action problem. Thinks that because this is really valuable information, and in the past, marketers had to pay to collect that information, so this seems underhanded.

Palfrey responds: there is a book that says that ppl should make their private information an asset.

Weinberger: Suppose a person could press a button, that prevents the collection of data, would that work (to Tom)?

Tom: it would be helpful if this is done through the government. The government is a more trust entity. Harder to do it through a private party; wouldn’t trust Amazon, for exmample, to give it up voluntarily.

Connor: gmail, facebook, all of these services are free. What we’re doing is saying that there is a price for our personal information, and the fact that we arent’ willing to give it up suggests that these entties are paying for our information.

Vera: Are there special concerns with aggregation of information (Google and double click, she agreed to the descrete policies, but not necessarily to the aggregation of information)

Cory: There isn’t a privacy setting in the mortars and bricks world (going to CVS), information received by being in the store, and we don’t’ get the option to opt out in the “real world”. The question for him: why do we have this right to be anonymous?

Mariel: The difference is that it is limited. And the information provided online is far larger. She doesn’t think that I’m making the bargain, aren’t aware that I’m implicitly giving up my rights.

Palfrey suggests: are there different expectations online and offline?

Mariel: Greater, different, it’s hard to say. Ppl do things online that they wouldn’t do in person, and they are acting under the assumption of anonymity.

Palfrey: One web difference point: there needs to be a distinction between ,1) are we acting differently in a store in real space and a store online and 2) do we want to treat them differently. Sometimes those things are easy to answer (if ppl act the same way online and offline). Sometimes, “ppl are dumb” and give up too much information and the question is what should be done about that. [descriptive question and normative question]

Weinberger: The question is incredibly complex, and depends on the level of abstraction that analyze the question.

Doug: Firefox has a feature allows users to block ads; does that make him a free rider? Should there be a way for websites to block users if they choose to block the websites advertisements?

Palfrey: does it mean that Mariel’s approach will be for the benefit of companies (less ppl using firebox bad on ads)

Damien: going back to Cory’s point, ppl might act differently online because they have the false impression that they have more privacy. The other difference is what happens with the information that you give in the brick and mortar world as opposed to the online world.

Connor: It’s true that there’s an information asymmetry, so there’s a duty on the ppl in this room to be vocal about it.

Me: The terms of use are available for all of these websites, so whether there is information asymmetry is questionable.

Kevin: following up on what Sean said, there’s another way to bifurcate the discussion, in terms of how things change over time. There is an argument to be made about not regulating early communities where innovation is going to happen. The question is what happens when other users join the community: how to regulate without destroying what we have?

Lessig ends his book by saying that it’s in the hands of users to determine what kind of Internet we want. Lessig is exhorting us to get out there, if we care about a generative Internet, users have to educate each other before there are heavy legal or architectural responses.

Von Hippel has been making this argument for decades. And all of a sudden, what he’s saying is “hot”. His core argument is that users can drive innovation just as much s manufacturers can. His argument is that the most innovative firms are the ones that are the least restrictive about its secret, because they want the innovation to come from the outside.

His instinct is that we want a system that deals with the notion that IP legal policies may be undermining innovation.

How would we advice the CEO of a firm?
Would we want to have different standards for what users can do w/ your product and what competitors can do? Should a firm be selective about the rights that it gives out, more rights to individual users, less rights to competitors (like a creative commons)

Aaron: There is a default position to err on the side of aggregation of rights.

Vera: example of Java (open source).

Palfrey: open source made von hippel famous. Why would that be?

Sean: opportunity for people in that community to benefit.

Palfrey: stepping away from IP concerns, does his idea seem like useful? Have anyone participated as user in the innovation of a project?

Weinberger: added to program.

Vera: contributed, but more as the original creator (not the person building upon it).

Sean: electric corkscrew

Palfrey: all three edge cases. One of the critiques of Von Hippel, is that is a great theory, but is it really transforming ?

Ilan: apple doesn’t do any market testing.

Vera: Apple is opening the API for the apple phone.

Douglas: when ppl got iphones, they started experimenting, and there were communities that sprang up that exposed interact and add on top of apple. Douglas thinks this is an example of van hippel being right, because users are innovate.

Ilan: iphone may be a poor example.

Richard: apple and the iphone are edge examples, because apple is famous for being closed. It’s the most closed, windows is somewhat more open, and then linux is entirely open. Rightn ow, where the innovation is happening is difficult to say. There are a lot of users that want to drive the innovaction, some of them hack their iphones, some are happy to write programs for windows. With the push from users, apple is willing to open up

Palfrey: What are some examples that van hippel uses?

Douglas: mountain biking.

Palfrey: the kinds of examples he uses are Connor’s “cool kids”. There is something about the quality of the examples that he’s using are the hip, young kids (nobody’s mom). One of the pushbacks is: are we seeing a largescale shift from consumers to manufacturers, or is a fringe example that academics use. One example to leave you w/: the facebook privacy issues (newsfeed and beacon), facebook responds to users complaints, but the features remained.