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Blizzard decries orc-on-orc gatherings

Freedom | Tuesday, January 31st, 2006 | 11 years, 3 months ago

A WoW gamer was recently reprimanded by Blizzard Enterntainment for creating a GLBT-friendly guild, Oz. The charge? “Harassment – Sexual Orientation”

Blizzard game masters quoted the following guild advertisement, claiming it to be in conflict with their EULA section on discrimination by sexual orientation:

“OZ is recruiting all levels ¦ We are not ‘GLBT only,’ but we are ‘GLBT friendly’! (guilduniverse.com/oz)”

Confused by the allegation and confident that this was a simple misunderstanding, the gamer replied to Blizzard, quoting text directly from the EULA:

“This category includes both clear and masked language which insultingly refers to any aspect of sexual orientation pertaining to themselves or other players.”

To which Blizzard replied in turn:

“While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a ‘GLBT friendly’ guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise. If you will look at our policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy is to ‘be temporarily suspended from the game.’ However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty was reduced to a warning.”

It would appear that this young woman is being punished for attempting to make a safe haven for likeminded people from the persecution of others, simply because putting these people in the same place would make them a likely target for further ridicule.

Despite the seemingly unreasonable totalitarian ruling of the company, Blizzard does in fact reserve the right to permit or deny any action on their servers. Though they have a commitment to their paying customers, WoW players are Blizzard’s guests and must adhere to the rules and judgements made by the game’s administrators.

Though they are in the right as far as the letter of the law goes, many WoW players have cried hypocrisy, claiming that pro-Christian guilds (a topic I’ve previously discussed) can be found spamming public channels with religious-bent recruitment offers to the public at large. If true, allegations of Blizzard’s skewed intolerance may come back to haunt them.

The topic of discrimination is a multifaceted one in WoW. The epic scale of the game has birthed an entire industry of “gold farmers” – services that play your character while you’re at work or sell gold for real cash. Since the most popular and numerous gold farmers are from China, and much press has recently brought the issue to light, many of the million-plus legitimate Chinese gamers have found themselves discriminated against by groups and guilds requiring applicants to say a few sentences in proper English before being accepted.

So it would appear that WoW players are bombarded with discrimination from all fronts. As the most populous virtual world in history, WoW will set precedent in its handling of such issues. Let’s hope, for the sake of cybercivilization, that the matter can be resolved symbiotically.

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Tune in to RFID – all secrets all the time!

Freedom | Monday, January 30th, 2006 | 11 years, 3 months ago

Radio Frequency Identification tags, or RFID, is a burgeoning new technology about to find applications in many sectors. RFID is a tiny chip that broadcasts data into the open air around it, much like a miniature radio station. The widest early-adopter, Walmart, will print stickers with RFID chips embedded, affix the stickers to all merchandise, and will be able to catalog inventory simply by walking down each aisle with a RFID receiver. This will substantially reduce costs in inventory tracking, shipping, receiving, and service. Truly a fascinating and powerful technology.

In fact, the technology is so powerful that various governments are preparing to incorporate RFID into passports, drivers licenses, travel visas, and other forms of citizen identification. This is very bad news for said citizens.

The positive side of RFID in identification is that many assets, material or human, can be tracked without physical contact. This allows for more efficient handling of long lines of irate travelers. It also means that receivers require less servicing as there are no moving parts or points of physical contact.

This is where the good points end. The other ramifications point to catastrophes of liberty and security – the very points argued in favour of this technology.

Historically, Walmart employees had to enumerate inventory by hand, removing items from shelves in many cases to get an accurate count. RFID enables them to do so without any contact whatsoever; tagged stock not yet unloaded from trucks could potentially be counted without even opening shipping crates. It will also be possible to determine precisely what products customers are carrying, what aisles they browse and for how long, and what Walmart products they are wearing. Couple this with an RFID Walmart card (this is speculation but with valid potential) and individual customer profiling is just a scan away.

This is the fundamental problem with RFID applications in tracking people – it can be done without their knowledge or assent. Governments, airport security, and police can forgo the unpleasantness of a “papers please” customs booth by simply eliminating the vocal request (and your accompanying response). Your “papers” on your RFID-enabled passport will be broadcast 10 metres around you at all times, readable by anyone with the proper receiver.

This is the biggest problem with the plan. Anyone who owns a Microsoft operating system knows how frequently security vulnerabilities are exploited. These exploits are usually followed up by patches to close the vulnerability. This is possible because computers are variable entities, designed to allow functionality to be modified as is needed over time. RFID tags are one-way, static chips that cannot be changed at all. As soon as the encryption is broken, your ciphered data is open to anyone with a compatible reader.

This is the crux of my alleged catastrophe. This fundamental flaw enables identity thieves and terrorists to become more powerful, flexible, and fast than ever before.

Instead of pre-establishing fake identities, terrorists could capture the identity of someone who just bought a ticket on a desired flight and immediately assume that identity. If something goes awry and the identity is flagged, another identity could be procured momentarily. Walking from one side of an airport to the other would yield thousands of valid IDs ripe for plucking.

Instead of digging through garbage for VISA slips, identity thieves could stand behind a shopper in the checkout line, scan their RFID identity, and take note of the shopper’s purchases. The thief could then use these combined data to convince a higher-up at the store to surrender even more private information about the victim, which in turn could be used to flesh out this borrowed persona for all kinds of nefarious uses – to take out a loan in the victim’s name, apply for credit cards, sell the identity to other criminals, and much more.

If you’re American you’ll likely have an RFID-enabled passport by the end of the year. You won’t be able to fly without one, unlike recent years where Americans were not obliged to identify themselves at all in order to travel. Though you can’t fly without proving your identity, you may want to ensure your identity stays safe until you allow it.

Though the technology will be applicable to countless industries and private uses, it will be up to governments to understand and limit the technology to its intended task – transmitting innocuous data that is meaningless out of context; RFID was designed for use in closed systems such as companies or warehouses.

~~~

Many thanks to those who replied to my comment on the related article on Slashdot. You gave me some great ideas and I credit you for them. Especially slavemowgli who had particularly poignant thoughts.

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Wiped from immediacy, etched in eternity

Law | Thursday, January 26th, 2006 | 11 years, 4 months ago

I’ve read some really interesting articles lately about the immortality of data on the internet – a topic I’ve discussed previously. The most notable recent articles include:

In meatspace everything decays, including history. In cyberspace bits and bytes have the capacity to stand the test of time. Are we, as private individuals, entitled to the graceful decay of the past?

Let’s address the case of the recent lawsuit by a German family challenging Wikipedia to remove the real name of recently deceased hacker\phreaker, Tron. Being a non-profit organization, and thus not having a deutschmark to spare, Wikipedia was quick to comply. However, the gesture was purely for show. Wikipedia is contributed to and edited exclusively by the general public, and the gentleman’s deleted name was replaced very shortly thereafter.

The terms required to prevent a lawsuit have been met, and the matter has not changed one iota. The name can be found on both the German and English sites (in bold, no less), as plain as the nose on my face. The real name of Tron may as well be displayed in lights on Broadway. In fact…

tronborisfloricic.jpg

As long as this truth is known by someone who is aware of an internet repository of information, it will never be dulled, obscured, or forgotten.

The matter of archive.org‘s Wayback Machine being sued is equally frivolous. The terms of the lawsuit regard the service’s failure to reliably obey the webmaster’s passive request of content omission. This request was “voiced” in the form of robots.txt – a text file optionally placed in the domain root of a web server, which is optionally interpreted by automated services like search engines and archivers which may optionally choose to obey the commands in the file. No signed contracts + no obligation + no precedent == no court ruling. The archived data, unless actively requested, will remain publicly available.

Then there’s the flip side to consider – content which is forcably removed (or whose removal is demanded with force).

For example, take my favourite blog, SixthSeal. Proprietor Poh Huai Bin was recently threatened by police to remove illegal content from his web server, leaving the blog a still excellent but diluted shadow of its former glory. Thanks to internet archives, the taboo content lives on in nearly all its glory, including most of the contraversial photographs and videos. The URL for this content may as well be displayed in the corner of the TV screen during the Superbowl. In fact…

sixthsealarchive0.jpg

Showoffishness and smarminess aside, my point is simple. If you want it forgotten, don’t put it on the internet. With the trend of digital cameras being put into everything, the issue remains of one’s privacy being violated and shared without their consent. However, this is perhaps a topic for another day.

There are topics I’d love to discuss publicly, but I cannot afford to have them come back to bite me in the cyberbum. I urge you, my scores of loyal readers, to exercise restraint when voicing your spicier thoughts online. You never know whether a prospective employer, jealous mistress, spiteful nemesis, or mischevious child will happen upon your immortalized nuggets of incriminating gold.

Addendum:

I just happened across this related article from the EFFGoogle Cache Rule Fair Use

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