A Kinder, Gentler Internet: California’s “Erase Button”

cyber bullyingIn the early nineties, the internet was greeted with immense optimism and anticipation. Scarcely a week went by without some major personality – Al Gore and Bill Gates come to mind – championing its development, saying it would bring the world together and lead to “the information age”. After just a few years, these predictions were being mocked by just about everyone on the planet who had access.

Rehtaeh_ParsonsYes, despite all that has been made possible by the internet, the heady optimism that was present in those early days seem horribly naive by today’s standards. In addition to making virtually any database accessible to anyone, the world wide web has also enabled child pornographers, hate speech, conspiracy theorists and misinformation like never before.

What’s more, a person’s online presence opens them to new means of identity theft, cyberbullying, and all kinds of trolling and harassment. Who can forget the cases of Amanda Todd or Rethaeh (Heather) Parsons? Two young women who committed suicide due to relentless and disgusting bullying that was able to take place because there simply was no way to stop it all.

amanda_toddsuicide.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxAnd with the ever expanding online presence of children and youths on the internet, and little to no controls to monitor their behavior, there are many campaigns out there that hope to reign in the offenders and protect the users. But there are those who have gone a step further, seeking to put in place comprehensive safeguards so that trollish behavior and hurtful comments can be stopped before it becomes a permanent part of the digital stream.

One such person is California Governor Jerry Brown, who recently signed a bill into law that requires all websites to provide an online “erase button” for anyone under 18 years of age. The stated purpose of the law is to help protect teens from bullying, embarrassment and harm to job and college applications from online posts they later regret. The law, which is designated SB568, was officially passed on Sept. 23rd and will go into effect Jan 1st, 2015.

kid-laptop-156577609_610x406Common Sense Media, a San Francisco based non-profit organization that advocates child safety and family issues, was a major supporter of the bill. In a recent interview, CEO James Steyer explained the logic behind it and how it will benefit youths:

Kids and teens frequently self-reveal before they self-reflect. In today’s digital age, mistakes can stay with and haunt kids for their entire life. This bill is a big step forward for privacy rights, especially since California has more tech companies than any other state.

The law is not without merit, as a 2012 Kaplan survey conducted on college admissions counselors shows. In that study, nearly a quarter of the counselors interviewed said they checked applicants’ social profiles as part of the admission process. Of those counselors, 35% said what they found – i.e. vulgarities, alcohol consumption, “illegal activities” – negatively affected their applicants’ admissions chances.

smartphoneteensBut of course, the bill has its share of opponents as well. Of those who voted against it, concerns that the law will burden websites with developing policies for different states appeared to be paramount. Naturally, those who support the bill hope it will spread, thus creating a uniform law that will remove the need to monitor the internet on a state-by-state basis.

At present, major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine already allow users of any age to delete their posts, photos and comments. California’s “eraser button” law requires that all websites with users in the state follow this policy from now on. And given the presence of Silicon Valley and the fact that California has one of the highest per capita usages of the internet in the country, other states are sure to follow.

facebook-privacyThe new law also prohibits youth-oriented websites or those that know they have users who are minors from advertising products that are illegal to underage kids, such as guns, alcohol and tobacco. Little wonder then why it was also supported by organizations like Children NOW, Crime Victims United, the Child Abuse Prevention Center and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

In addition to being a legal precedent, this new law represents a culmination of special interests and concerns that have been growing in size and intensity since the internet was first unveiled. And given the recent rise in parental concerns over cyberbullying and teen suicides connected to online harassment, its hardly surprising that something of this nature was passed.

Sources: news.cnet.com, cbc.ca, huffingtonpost.com

IFA 2013!

IFA2013There are certainly no shortages of electronic shows happening this year! It seems that I just finished getting through all the highlights from Touch Taiwan which happened back in August. And then September comes around and I start hearing all about IFA 2013. For those unfamiliar with this consumer electronics exhibition, IFA stands for Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin, which loosely translated means the Berlin Radio Show.

As you can tell from the name, this annual exhibit has some deep roots. Beginning in 1924, the show was intended to gives electronics producers the chance to present their latest products and developments to the general public, as well as showcasing the latest in technology. From radios and cathode-ray display boxes (i.e. television) to personal computers and PDAs, the show has come a long way, and this year’s show promised to be a doozy as well.

IFA-2013Of all those who presented this year, Sony seems to have made the biggest impact. In fact, they very nearly stole the show with their presentation of their new smartphones, cameras and tablets. But it was their new Xperia Z1 smartphone that really garnered attention, given all the fanfare that preceded it. Check out the video by TechRadar:

However, their new Vaio Tap 11 tablet also got quite a bit of fanfare. In addition to a Haswell chip (Core i3, i5 or i7), a six-hour battery, full Windows connectivity, a camera, a stand, 128GB to 512GB of solid-state storage, and a wireless keyboard, the tablet has what is known as Near Field Communications (NFC) which comes standard on smartphones these days.

This technology allows the tablet to communicate with other devices and enable data transfer simply by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity. The wireless keyboard is also attachable to the device via a battery port which allows for constant charging, and the entire thin comes in a very thin package. Check out the video by Engadget:

Then there was the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, an exhibit which was equally anticipated and proved to be quite entertaining. Initially, the company had announced that their new smartwatch would incorporate flexible technology, which proved to not be the case. Instead, they chose to release a watch that was comparable to Apple’s own smartwatch design.

But as you can see, the end result is still pretty impressive. In addition to telling time, it also has many smartphone-like options, like being able to take pictures, record and play videos, and link to your other devices via Bluetooth. And of course, you can also phone, text, instant message and download all kinds of apps. Check out the hands-on video below:

Toshiba also made a big splash with their exhibit featuring an expanded line of tablets, notebooks and hybrids, as well as Ultra High-Definition TVs. Of note was their M9 design, a next-generation concept that merges the latest in display and networking technology – i.e. the ability to connect to the internet or your laptop, allowing you to stream video, display pictures, and play games on a big ass display!

Check out the video, and my apologies for the fact that this and the next one are in German. There were no English translations:

And then there was their Cloud TV presentation, a form of “smart tv” that merges the best of a laptop to that of a television. Basically, this means that a person can watch video-on-demand, use social utilities, network, and save their files via cloud memory storage, all from their couch using a handheld remote. Its like watching TV, but with all the perks of a laptop computer – one that also has a very big screen!

And then there was the HP Envy Recline, an all-in-one PC that has a hinge that allows the massive touchscreen to pivot over the edge of a desk and into the user’s lap. Clearly, ergonomics and adaptability were what inspired this idea, and many could not tell if it was a brilliant idea or the most enabling invention since the LA-Z-BOY recliner. Still, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool:

Lenovo and Acer also attracted show goers with their new lineup of smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. And countless more came to show off the latest in their wares and pimp out their own versions of the latest and greatest developments. The show ran from September 6th to 11th and there are countless videos, articles and testimonials to still making it to the fore.

For many of the products, release dates are still pending. But all those who attended managed to come away with the understanding that when it comes to computing, networking, gaming, mobile communications, and just plain lazing, the technology is moving by leaps and bounds. Soon enough, we are likely to have flexible technology available in all smart devices, and not just in the displays.

nokia_morphNanofabricated materials are also likely to create cases that are capable of morphing and changing shape and going from a smartwatch, to a smartphone, to a smart tablet. For more on that, check out this video from Epic Technology, which showcases the most anticipated gadgets for 2014. These include transparent devices, robots, OLED curved TVs, next generation smartphones, the PS4, the Oculus Rift, and of course, Google Glass.

I think you’ll agree, next year’s gadgets are even more impressive than this year’s gadgets. Man, the future is moving fast!

b2b.ifa-berlin.com, technologyguide.com, telegraph.co.uk, techradar.com

Idle No More: A Mobilization of People and Information

we_are_idle_no_moreFor years, I have been pondering how the information age has affected society, particularly with regards to politics and social change. Many would argue that it has simply amplified the tendencies Neil Postman spoke of in Amusing Ourselves to Death, where the truth would drowned in a sea of irrelevance and mindless entertainment would keep us pacified and inert. However, others, including myself, have been the type to notice how access to information and the ability to connect the world over has helped activists and reform movements mobilize and overcome, in ways that might have been impossible in previous ages.

And Idle No More, a new reform movement here in Canada that seeks to address injustice the status of Canada’s First Nations, is a perfect example. Initially, it was a small but committed protest movements that had emerged in response to our current government and the Omnibus Bill C-45 that was passed back in 2011. But in just a few short months, thanks largely to social media, it has become a nation-wide phenomena joining countless groups and encompassing many outstanding issues, not the least of which are matters of Native sovereignty and the enduring and outdated government document known as the “Indian Act”.

idle_no_more_saskThe movement officially began in November of 2012 as a series of teach-ins by activists Nina Wilson, Sheelah Mclean, Sylvia McAdam and Jessica Gordon in Saskatoon. This led to a series of teach-ins, rallies and protests that were planned by the founders in a National Day Of Action on Dec. 10th, which coincided with Amnesty Internationals Human Rights Day and similar protests already underway in British Columbia over the Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails pipelines – two other issues effecting First Nations, but which are being pushed ahead by the Conservative Government.

At about the same time, Chief Theresa Spence, leader of the Attawapiskat Nation, announced that she was going on a hunger strike (limiting herself to water and broth) until Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to a meeting to discuss these and other issues relating to First Nations. Idle No More timed its protests with her announcement and declared their support for her cause. And of course, Facebook became the principal means of coordinating and connecting people all over the country.

In addition to the many changes to the Indian Act that Bill C-45 contained, specifically with regards to land held by First Nations People, Idle No More’s grievances extend to the following government bills. These and other acts initiated by the Conservatives and other governments weaken environmental protection laws, effect Canada’s waterways (many of which pass through First Nations territory and are intrinsic to the health and well being of the communities), and are believed to have a negative impact on native people and native sovereignty:

  • Bill C-38 (Budget Omnibus Bill #1)
  • Bill C-45 (Budget Omnibus Bill #2)
  • Bill C-27 First Nations Financial Transparency Act
  • Bill S-2 Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Right Act
  • Bill S-6 First Nations Elections Act
  • Bill S-8 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations
  • Bill C-428 Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act
  • Bill S-207 An Act to amend the Interpretation Act
  • Bill S-212 First Nations Self-Government Recognition Bill
  • “First Nations” Private Ownership Act

idle_no_more_posterTaken together, they are seen as part of a larger agenda on behalf of the Harper government to run rough-shod over environmental and First Nation interests, to ignore the harm caused by the implementation of one or many economic projects, and to streamline the legal process to make it easier for them to push their projects through. On top of that, they seek to redress hundreds of years of abuse, neglect and genocide that remain a stumbling block to a healthy relationship between the Canadian government and its First Nation people, and an embarrassment to the world.

Naturally, the Harper government was intransigent about having a meeting, but finally agreed when it became clear that Spence meant business and the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s many Aboriginal peoples, and a hell of a lot of its non-Aboriginal citizens (myself included) stood in solidarity with Spence. As of January 2013, his government and the Govern General of Canada both agreed to hold a meeting to discuss all outstanding issues.

THERESA-SPENCE-HARPER-MEETINGTo many, this is a hard-won victory, even though the greatest battles may be yet to come. And as far as I am concerned, it is demonstration of what social media and the internet can do when used for positive political change. Much like the Arab Spring, the Wisconsin Protests, and the 2008 and 2012 elections, having the means to connect with people far and wide and share in a common goal, all the while circumventing traditional media and official procedures, may mean the difference between victory and defeat.

As we all know, sometimes it’s necessary to “wag the dog” when the system fails. More and more, we see this happening today and it gives me hope. If people the world over can rise up and bring an end to ongoing abuse and oppression, then it demonstrates that we might actually be moving towards this thing called a global community after all, and one that is united in its commitment to human rights and social justice, not just a globalized economy and cheap electronics!

You go Spence! Give Harper and his cronies hell, and don’t let them give you any crap either! Chances are, they won’t be in office much longer. Oh, how I hope and pray…

Idle_No_MoreSource: CBC.ca, Huffington Post.ca, Facebook, idlenomore.ca