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Blizzard decries orc-on-orc gatherings

Freedom | Tuesday, January 31st, 2006 | 13 years, 7 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 | 13 years, 7 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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Searching your Soul

Freedom | Friday, January 20th, 2006 | 13 years, 8 months ago

If you (all 3 of you) have been looking for a reason to switch from your favourite search engine to Google, here’s a doozy.

The US Department of Justice has recently demanded of major search engines a sampling of 1 million random search terms in an effort to research the frequency of pornographic query results. The request is pursuant to the Child Online Protection Act, a much-opposed threat to individual privacy, in an attempt to homogenize search results. Many search engine operators gave in to the DoJ’s request without question, but Google has resisted, insisting the request violates their customers’ privacy.

Indeed, with search engines delving into all kinds of extraneous services such as email, shopping, video hosting, news aggregation, personals, photograph sharing, real estate, job searches, website statistics, and maps, the prospect of associating these random searches with personally identifiable information is truly frightening. Beknownst or not to we Internet users, we entrust all but our very souls to these companies, and the fact that so many of them are willing to surrender our very personal information is rather disturbing. I’ll wager most people with a Gmail account aren’t even aware that Google provides a search history service that presents a day-by-day summary of all searches performed while logged in. Users of Yahoo, MSN, and AOL search engines have just unwittingly handed all this information to the US government.

It is commendable that Google is fighting tooth and nail for the privacy of its users and for its very integrity. The company practises what it preaches, holding fast to its philosophy that “You can make money without doing evil.”

Let’s all wish Google the best of luck in defending against the threats of the DoJ, the Bush administration, and all those who would be carefree with our privacy.

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