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Month: February 2004

The "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act"

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

One of the main reasons the Internet has been so successful in the last decade is the fierce resistance given in response to meddling politicians who want to protect us from ourselves. Most of the laws that have been passed to regulate the web have either been ruled unconstitutional, or were completely useless and ineffective.
There is one bill however that has been particularly destructive and dishonest – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Most of it was overturned by the Supreme Court, but one of the provisions that remained is TITLE XIII, which requires parental permission to collect personal information from any child under 13 years of age. “Parental permission” means that a parent must submit their personal information, and a verification of their age using something like a valid credit card. Most websites cannot afford to install such a complex verification system – nor can they afford the legal liability if ingenious kids circumvent that system. Neither will the parents of most 13 year olds submit their credit card numbers to an unknown website. In practice, the majority of community websites that require some information for participation simply say “By Federal Law, ALL applicants MUST be 13 years of age or older.”

When faced with such a notice, 99% of kids will simply lie about their age. This is fine for them, but not for the website operators, who are forced to either not collect any information at all, or to ban children from using their website (and hence not be able to market to them.) This is why there are no child-oriented online communities on the web that I’m aware of. There are many child-oriented sites of course, but by “community,” I mean a place where individuals can interact with each other and build online personas – something that requires at least a username and email address. The few websites that can afford to spend millions on the technical and legal challenges necessary for children to register usually ban children from its online forums and communities anyway – encouraging them to lie even when parental consent is possible.

In short, the government’s attempt to “protect” children has wiped out a major market niche, taught children to lie from an early age, and forced them to move their communities to underground IRC channels and general audience sites – exposing them to much more risk then a properly moderated child-oriented site would. It has also set a precedent for online censorship, one that the Supreme Court has mostly rebuffed, but may not do so in the future.


by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

I can’t say how true this is, but it’s certainly a great story:

In January 1982, President Ronald Reagan approved a CIA plan to sabotage the economy of the Soviet Union through covert transfers of technology that contained hidden malfunctions, including software that later triggered a huge explosion in a Siberian natural gas pipeline, according to a new memoir by a Reagan White House official.

Limbaugh warns of danger to free speech

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

Well, I never expected this from the conservatives, but I’m glad that one of them finally had enough sense to say it:

The nation’s top radio host Rush Limbaugh warned of growing government intervention in broadcasting content.
Limbaugh made the comments after his parent company clear channel dropped Viacom’s Howard Stern from its stations.
‘Smut on tv gets praised. Smut on TV wins Emmys. On radio, there seems to be different standards,’ Limbaugh explained.
‘I’ve never heard Howard Stern. But when the federal government gets involved in this, i get a little frightened.
‘If we are going to sit by and let the federal government get involved in this, if the government is going to ‘censor’ what they think is right and wrong… What happens if a whole bunch of john Kerry’s, or terry McAuliffe’s start running this country. And decide conservative views are leading to violence?
‘I am in the free speech business. Its one thing for a company to determine if they are going to be party to it. Its another thing for the government to do it.’

Comanche Helicopter Scrapped

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

The Comanche helicopter program was scrapped today after $6.8 billion, 20 years of development, and not a single operational model. The helicopter was intended to oppose non-existent Soviet super-weapons, and after 1990, a non-existent Soviet empire. It took 13 years for the program to catch up with political reality. The helicopter has been featured in numerous movies, computer games, and television shows as the future of military technology. I think an observation made by my IT professor last week is appropriate: “Military contractors operate in a totally different universe. They have absolutely no conception of business reality, budget constraints, or product marketing since don’t use help from a digital marketing agency— and thus have a very hard time applying military technology to civilian applications.”
While the military does need to develop new hardware, the current pork-driven ménage a trois between politicians, local constituencies, and defense contractors is not the right way to do it.

Gay Marriages in San Franscisco

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to take a stand against the orgy of gay marriages coming out of San Francisco City Hall. Whatever one thinks of the legitimacy of gay marriage, I think this is a brilliant move for City Hall and a win-win situation for everyone. The San Fran authorities obviously have a wonderful PR campaign on their hands. The media gets a controversial story full of suspense and intrigue. When will the courts stop the marriages? (Any day now.) Will they be declared null and void? (Probably.) Will there be a huge uprising with protests and mock marriages all over the nation? You bet! Conservatives aren’t left out in the cold either. Neo-fascist conservatives like Bill O’Reilly will score bonus points by decrying the “moral decay of America,” and the shadowy liberal conspiracy known as the “secular/humanist movement.”

I’m pleased with the move too — the hippies are too busy attacking “the institution of marriage” to protest capitalism and war on terror, and the conservatives are too distracted fighting a battle they lost 40 years ago to wage their campaign of FCC censorship. Meanwhile, politicians of both parties will be busy announcing “pro-marriage” bills and amendments (which have zero chance of long-term success) to figure out new ways to divorce me from my money. Since national politicians of both parties cannot afford to alienate a large percentage of their electorate, no kind of coherent stand for or against gay marriage will come out of Congress. The only loser in the whole thing is the rule of law, which City Hall has blatantly ignored – but then California laws are so screwed up as it is that it might not be such a bad thing.

"polluting our minds with unnecessary greed"

by David Veksler David Veksler 3 Comments

I ranted last month about the socialist rag produced by the business student council at my school. I had hoped that this was an anomaly, until I opened up the latest issue. Here is a quote from “Can’t Buy Me Love,” an editorial from a freshman business major:

Gullible consumers rush to the stores, confident that their new pair of Nikes will suddenly transform them into 6’5” NBA all-stars surrounded by flashy cars and beautiful models. What, you mean that’s not true? …. As silly as it may seem, we do fall for this ingenious plan, hatched by companies to seduce us to spend money. Why has materialism become such a huge problem?
With technology in the increase, our society has become so fast paced that people no longer bother to fully communicate with one another. Now instead of tucking their kids into bed ever night, busy parents can read them a bedtime story via videophone. This lack of attention results in families spending less and less time together. Dinner is eaten in front of the television and kids only come home to sleep…. The chance that companies will stop pushing products on us and polluting our minds with unnecessary greed is very slim. Therefore, the chance of resolving these problems falls on the average consumer’s shoulders.

On a more positive note, we discussed offshore outsourcing in my global IT systems class this week. Despite my professor’s best efforts to raise doubts about the benefits of outsourcing, virtually the entire class was united in the opinion that it was a good thing. When he suggested that CEO’s ought to value “human factors” above profits, one student exclaimed “why, that would be negligent!” The professor then proceeded to spend an hour writing dozens of complex diagrams and equations, all to make the point that out-outsourcing is attractive because foreign IT workers get paid less, although “there’s no reason to think that they’re less productive than Americans.”