Category: Technology


Website Hacking Blackmail

A while back, I wrote about the Million Dollar Homepage, where Alex Tew, a student, created the idea of selling a million pixels on a website to advertisers for $1 each. His plan was successful, and he recently reached his goal of raising a million dollars in just a few months.


But the story attracted some unsavory criminals bent on ruining Tew’s enterprise. From the BBC:

But the publicity brought the unwanted attention of extortionists who knocked the site over with a massive denial-of-service attack.

Following a week of downtime, the website is now back online.

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Microsoft Shuts Down a Blog in China

china1a.bmpRecently, I blogged about how companies such as Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo have been helping China filter searches for censorship purposes and in some cases track down dissidents who post online. According to a story today in the New York Times:

Microsoft has shut the blog site of a well-known Chinese blogger who uses its MSN online service in China after he discussed a high-profile newspaper strike that broke out here one week ago. . . .

The blog was removed last week from a Microsoft service called MSN Spaces after the blog discussed the firing of the independent-minded editor of The Beijing News, which prompted 100 journalists at the paper to go on strike Dec. 29. It was an unusual show of solidarity for a Chinese news organization in an industry that has complied with tight restrictions on what can be published.

The move by Microsoft comes at a time when the Chinese government is stepping up its own efforts to crack down on press freedom. Several prominent editors and journalists have been jailed in China over the last few years and charged with everything from espionage to revealing state secrets. . . .

Mr. Zhao said in an interview Thursday that Microsoft chose to delete his blog on Dec. 30 with no warning. “I didn’t even say I supported the strike,” he said. “This action by Microsoft infringed upon my freedom of speech. They even deleted my blog and gave me no chance to back up my files without any warning.”

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Help China Filter Searches?


Should Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Help China Filter Searches?

china1a.bmpAn interesting article from Salon discusses how Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft assist the Chinese government with censorship. The companies filter out search results that the government wants to censor, and they help the government track down individuals engaging in criticism and dissent:

To conduct business in China, popular Internet companies Yahoo, Microsoft and Google have had to accommodate a regime that forbids free speech, bars political parties and jails journalists. This means filtering searches on their sites, censoring news and providing evidence in the trials of political dissidents — or risk having their sites blocked in China. Forced to choose between ignoring the world’s hottest market or implicitly endorsing a system of censorship that a recent Harvard study called “the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world,” the companies have decided to cooperate.

“Business is business,” Jack Ma, CEO of, which controls Yahoo China, told the Financial Times. “It’s not politics.”

How do companies cooperate? The article explains:

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Vlogging: The Future or a Passing Fad?

vlogger2.jpgThe New York Times has an interesting recent article on “vlogging,” a term for video blogging:

Amanda Congdon is a big star on really small screens – like the 4½-inch window she appears in on computer monitors every weekday morning or the 2½ inches she has to work with on the new video iPod. Ms. Congdon, you see, is the anchor of a daily, three-minute, mock TV news report shot on a camcorder, edited on a laptop and posted on a blog called Rocketboom, which now reaches more than 100,000 fans a day.

In terms of subject matter, Rocketboom is actually quite a standard – one might even say traditional – Web log: Ms. Congdon comments on intriguing items she, and the site’s producer, Andrew Baron, have found on the Web, and includes links to them which appear just below clear, smooth-playing video. The items tend to be developments in Internet culture (robots and flash mobs, say, or flash mobs of robots) with a sprinkling of left-leaning political commentary (Ms. Congdon announced the posting of Representative Tom DeLay’s mug shot while wearing a party hat and blowing a noisemaker) and samples of Web video from around the world. . . .

In case you’re wondering, it has occurred to Mr. Baron and Ms. Congdon that they just might be sitting on a gold mine. At a cost of about $20 an episode, they reach an audience that some days is roughly comparable in size to that of, say, CNN’s late, unlamented “Crossfire” political debate show. They have no background in business, but Jeff Jarvis, who tracks developments in technology and culture on his blog, (and who has served as a consultant to The New York Times on Web matters), pointed out to them that they might be able to charge $8,000 for an interactive ad at the end of the show, which would bring in about $2 million annually.

Is vlogging the television equivalent to blogging? Will vlogs have the impact that blogs are having? One can imagine that some vloggers may become celebrities — perhaps the next John Stewart. On the flipside, one can imagine vlogging as just a passing fad, something that will not take off as vigorously as blogging. Video is still not as easy to search and stumble upon as text on the Internet; nor is vlogging as interactive as blogging. But all that might change. What will vlogging become?

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Are Bloggers Having an Influence Inside the Beltway?

2. Solove, A Day in the Life of Blogging

3. Solove, Exponential Growth of Blogospheric Proportions

4. Solove, The Most Expensive Blog Ad Ever?


Wiki Art?

swarmsketch1.jpgA new website called Swarm Sketch allows people to create a sketch in wiki fashion:

SwarmSketch is an ongoing online canvas that explores the possibilities of distributed design by the masses. Each week it randomly chooses a popular search term which becomes the sketch subject for the week. In this way, the collective is sketching what the collective thought was important each week. . . .

Each user can contribute a small amount of line per visit, then they are given the opportunity to vote on the opacity of lines submitted by other users. By voting, users moderate the input of other users, judging the quality of each line. The darkness of each line is the average of all its previous votes.

The sketch included in this post is entitled “Cell Phone Bandit.” You can browse the other artwork here, including a rather vulgar picture of Jessica Simpson’s wedding. Let’s just say that wiki is no Picasso.

Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Curtailing Anonymity on Wikipedia

2. Solove, Fake Biographies on Wikipedia

3. Solove, Suing Wikipedia

4. Solove, Wiki Your Papers?

5. Hoffman, Wex

6. Wenger, Wikimania


New York Times on Gold Farming

gold.jpgThe New York Times carries a story today on gold farming activities in virtual worlds. “Gold farming” is the term used for acquiring virtual wealth within multi-player games like World of Warcraft and then selling it to other players for real cash. As the Times notes, it is a growing industry, despite the fact that the sales are usually in violation of the software contract of the games.

I mention this because exploring the legal issues raised by these environments has been a pet project of mine, and it has been interesting to see the popular media attention increasingly given to multi-player games as their demographics expand. In many ways, the predecessors of World of Warcraft were part of the impetus for the debates in the 1990’s over the growing importance of cyberlaw as a field for legal inquiry. For instance, William Mitchell’s City of Bits, about the construction of digital social spaces, is a book from 1994 that is well worth reading today.

If you want a crash course on the economics and society of virtual worlds, I’d recommend Virtual Worlds by Ted Castronova, Unreal Estate by Julian Dibbell, and this blog. For some thoughts on the legal dimensions, Dan Hunter and I have published two articles on point: The Laws of the Virtual Worlds and Virtual Crime. Among other writings on the topic are Virtual Property by Josh Fairfield and Virtual Liberty by Jack Balkin.

Even Judge Posner thinks this stuff is cool.


Searching the State

As a temporary diversion from discussions of state searches, you might want to search the state a bit — the State of the Union that is. Jonathan Corum has put together this pretty tool (explanation here) that allows you to pull up George Bush’s state of the union addresses and compare the number of instances where particular words are used. If you check a box, you can see the sentences in which the words appear. Here are some for starters:

George Bush on “terror” versus “taxes”

Bush on “evil” versus “freedom”

Washington, Lincoln, Reagan, and Clinton on “nation” v “state”

Perhaps readers can pull out some more interesting/humorous comparisons. Credit due to my RSS feed from the excellent information aesthetics blog.

p.s. Dan would probably be interested in this one from IA — a online GPS diary tracking the artist’s movements on various days.


Wiki Thyself

wikipedia3.jpgIn a recent incident on Wikipedia, Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, was accused of editing an entry on Wikipedia on podcasting to enhance his role in the origins of podcasting. According to a CNET article:

Essentially, Curry is accused of anonymously editing out information in the article that discusses some others’ roles in the creation of the technology while at the same time pumping up his own role.

In particular, he was said to have entirely deleted sections of the article, which addressed innovations originally talked about by Technorati principal engineer Kevin Marks.

“At the first Harvard BloggerCon conference,” in 2003, the original Wikipedia language began, “Kevin Marks demonstrated a script to download RSS enclosures to iTunes and synchronise them onto an iPod, something Adam Curry had been doing with Radio Userland and Applescript.”

But then an anonymous user–who was traced back to Curry via the IP address–deleted the Marks section.

According to another CNET article, Curry believed that the information he deleted was wrong. It wasn’t, and Curry admitted making a mistake. The CNET article raises the issue of whether people should be permitted to create or edit entries on issues where they have a personal interest:

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AIBOs as Test Objects

aibo.jpgSherry Turkle teaches psychology at MIT, and is one of the leading scholars in the social dimensions of digital culture. Her book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, was written in 1995 (an epoch ago in Internet years) but is still probably the most perceptive and well-written (in my opinion) treatments of the psychological dimensions of human-computer interaction. In it, Turkle quotes a statement by Emmerson that dreams and beasts are “test objects” — “two keys by which we are to find out the secrets of our nature.” Turkle adds computers as a new form of test object — she argues that in our attempts to negotiate the meaning of digital objects and spaces, we will face important decisions about who we are, individually and collectively.

As an interesting update to the “test object” notion, see this page from the University of Washington’s Value Sensitive Design Research Lab, and scroll down to the section on Human-Robotic Interaction. There is a wonderful set of papers on the way people relate to AIBOs — the electronic dogs that Sony manufactures. The AIBO is interesting because it is doubly a test object — a virtual dog. The researchers sample human interactions with the AIBO to assess how they differ from interactions with real dogs or inanimate (stuffed) dogs. For instance, do people perceive any ethical issues with regard to the treatment of a robotic dog? Most don’t, though some do. This is from a message board:

WHAT!? They Actualy THREW AWAY aibo, as in the GARBAGE?!! That is outragious! That is so sick to me! Goes right up there with Putting puppies in a bag and than burying them! OHH I feel sick…

But while (I think) most would agree it is silly to treat an AIBO even remotely like a dog, is there anything else to say about AIBO ethics? The authors state that AIBO owners seem to garner some of the psychological benefits of having a pet from a relationship with an AIBO — yet most feel entirely free to ignore it whenever is convenient or desirabe to do so. Which is interesting, considering that we’ll soon have generations of children growing up with richly interactive electronic companions as toys. What might they learn from the availability of such switch on/switch off “real” imaginary friends?

And if you want a legal-doctrinal spin on these questions, see Ian Kerr’s recent paper on e-commerce law: Bots, Babes and the Californication of Commerce: Are we tricked into buying things by electronic babes?


FBI Virus

fbi1.bmpI just got a humorous virus email. It’s from with this message:

Dear Sir/Madam,

we have logged your IP-address on more than 30 illegal Websites.


Please answer our questions!

The list of questions are attached.

Yours faithfully,

Steven Allison
Federal Bureau of Investigation -FBI-
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Room 3220
Washington, DC 20535
phone: (202) 324-3000

Of course, the list of questions attached is a file containing a virus. I’m dying to see the questions, but alas . . . my email program stripped out the virus-laden file.