The Null Device


British menswear chain Burton has egg on its face after it emerged that the decorative Cyrillic text on a T-shirt it was selling was actually an extreme-right anti-immigrant slogan, translating as "We will cleanse Russia of all non-Russians":

The shirt's overall design is an odd jumble of ersatz French logo and Russian iconography, but there is no mistaking the nature of the sentiment, which uses the old word for Russia, "Rus" as a way of distinguishing between ethnic Russians and those with Russian citizenship. "I've spoken to a Russian friend," says Mr Shuttleworth, "and she said you would be arrested if you wore it in Russia."
The phrase is typical of those painted on foreigners' homes by Russian neo-nazis.
Burton has blamed one of its suppliers for the gaffe, saying it was told that the slogan read merely "be proud of Russia".

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Meanwhile, Google has filed a patent for using online games to build up psychological profiles of users, and using these for targetting ads:

The company thinks it can glean information about an individual's preferences and personality type by tracking their online behaviour, which could then be sold to advertisers. Details such as whether a person is more likely to be aggressive, hostile or dishonest could be obtained and stored for future use, it says.
The patent says: "User dialogue (eg from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterise the user (eg literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc). Also, user play may be used to characterise the user (eg cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc)."
Players who spend a lot of time exploring "may be interested in vacations, so the system may show ads for vacations". And those who spend more time talking to other characters will see adverts for mobile phones.
Not all the inferences made by monitoring user activity rely on subtle psychological clues, however. "In a car racing game, after a user crashes his Honda Civic, an announcer could be used to advertise by saying 'if he had a Hummer, he would have gotten the better of that altercation', etc," the patent says. And: "If the user has been playing for over two hours continuously, the system may display ads for Pizza Hut, Coke, coffee."
And on a related note, Bruce Schneier on how today's likely surveillance dystopias differ from Orwell's totalitarian vision:
Data collection in 1984 was deliberate; today's is inadvertent. In the information society, we generate data naturally. In Orwell's world, people were naturally anonymous; today, we leave digital footprints everywhere.
1984's Big Brother was run by the state; today's Big Brother is market driven. Data brokers like ChoicePoint and credit bureaus like Experian aren't trying to build a police state; they're just trying to turn a profit. Of course these companies will take advantage of a national ID; they'd be stupid not to. And the correlations, data mining and precise categorizing they can do is why the U.S. government buys commercial data from them.
And finally, the police state of 1984 was deliberately constructed, while today's is naturally emergent. There's no reason to postulate a malicious police force and a government trying to subvert our freedoms. Computerized processes naturally throw off personalized data; companies save it for marketing purposes, and even the most well-intentioned law enforcement agency will make use of it.

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Google's shareholders say, alright, let's be evil where it's profitable:

A majority of Google shareholders today voted against an anti-censorship proposal that took aim at the way the search giant conducts its business in China and other countries that engage in active censorship.
The specific text of the failed proposal, available in the company's online proxy statement, stated:
  1. Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet-restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
  2. The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
  3. The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
  4. Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
  5. Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
  6. The company will document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
Of course, that doesn't mean that Google will give up the slogan "don't be evil"; given that, in the context of what they do, "evil" is a fairly vague term (even harder to nail down than Apple's environmental record, a subject of some debate), if they do start shopping dissidents to the Chinese government and propping up totalitarian regimes in the interests of profits, if anything, they're more likely to start spinning heavily on the we're-nice-guys angle; sort of like Nestlé.

(via jwz) business capitalism censorship china google realpolitik 0