What have you been watching on YouTube lately?

by Eszter Hargittai on July 3, 2008

I am rushing off to meetings, but this is disturbing news and I figured folks around here would want to know about it/have an interest in discussing it.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation by Kurt Opsahl (posted July 2nd):

Yesterday, in the Viacom v. Google litigation, the federal court for the Southern District of New York ordered Google to produce to Viacom (over Google’s objections):

all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website

The court’s order grants Viacom’s request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users. The VPPA passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection.

Rest of EFF post

Various MSM sources are just starting to roll out their own coverage (e.g., BBC).

I guess those – must be many – who watch YouTube without a user ID or without logging in to the service have less to lose, but forget the privacy of the more avid and loyal users.

As to the source code, Google does get to keep that. It’s interesting to see which news item (the user ID issue vs source code) is being covered where.

Radical scepticism

by John Quiggin on July 3, 2008

For a long time, I’ve used the term “delusionist” rather than “sceptic” to describe those who reject mainstream science on global warming. In general, the term “sceptic” is inappropriate for members of this group, since their position is hardly ever based on a willingness to look sceptically at evidence without reliance on a preconceived views. Rather the dominant characteristic is wishful thinking based on perceived political implications. The gullibility with which so many delusionists parrot the latest talking points (“Hockey stick broken!”, “Global warming on Mars”, Warming stopped in 1998″ and so on) is clearly incompatible with any kind of scepticism.

Given the volume of evidence that has accumulated on the issue, only an adherent of some very strong form of scepticism could reasonably remain undecided. Such a sceptic has now appeared in the form of Adam Shand, an Australian program on global warming “it’s only an assumption” that summer is warmer than winter. I imagine he gets great prices on ski holidays, by going in January.*

Of course, once you’ve gone this far in scepticism, why not go the whole hog? Radical scepticism provides the perfect argument for rejecting action to mitigate global warming – if we have no reason to believe in the existence of the external world, then trashing it can’t be a problem, can it?

* Northern hemisphere readers can make the necessary adjustments.

I once said that work on social software formed the experimental wing of political philosophy. I said it to a room full of geeks, not philosophers, by way of exhorting them to consider social ramifications of seemingly technological choices, such as “If you have a point system for good behavior, people will behave to optimize points, not to be good.” (cf. John Quiggans’ post on grades.)

Behind the basic point of this throwaway line, though, is something that has been puzzling me for some time. Like all groups with shared pursuit of shared goals, mediated groups need governance, which is to say rules for losing. It has to be the case that at least some participants in a group are willing to regard not getting their way as both legitimate and acceptable, or the groups would simply fork with every non-unanimous decision, and dividing groups with powers of two in the denominator would atomize even huge collectives after a handful of such decisions.

And so, several years ago, I began reading classics of social contract theory. After the initial excitement of seeing the similarities between Federalist Papers #10 and the Slashdot moderation system, though, I bumped into two key ways in which the arrangement of constitutions didn’t fit with the sort of rules for losing that are essential on the net.

The first is the concern, in recent centuries, about reining in majoritarian tyranny — preventing 50.1% of the polity from simply voting themselves into a permanent advantage over the other 49.9%.

This is something of a concern online, but its also clear that the really novel threat to group action in mediated fora is the tyranny of the individual. Even in systems not constructed around consensus, one or a small group of people determined to upset the proceedings can do enormous damage.

The second is the concern, at the center of the debate since Hobbes, about how leaders are to be legitimated, and under what circumstances, if any, they can be removed and replaced. This concern seems to stem in large part from physical and political facts — to a first approximation, each person is a citizen of one and only one country, and can’t readily switch citizenship should they object to the policies of that country. In the troika of exit, voice and loyalty, much political theory assumes that exiting is off the table for most people.

Online, though, inflexible one-to-one mappings of member to group are rare. One can contribute to Apache _and_ Linux, comment on MeFi _and_ BoingBoing, and so on. Indeed, the two most normal cases of governance on the net are the cabal (there is no cabal) and benevolent dictatorship, as with Linus and Linux or Guido of Python, whose acronymed title, BDFL, stands for “Benevolent Dictator For Life.” What keeps these dictators benevolent is precisely that membership in various groups is non-exclusive, and switching allegiances is under the user’s control, with no analog for rules of state.

So what I want to ask of the collected wisdom of CT readers is this: what one or two works would you pick, from any discipline, that best illuminate the group governance issues we see on the net, as different from political thought about the real world? (Mine would be Exit, Voice and Loyalty, and Logic of Collective Action.)

Derbyshire on Bermondsey 1983

by Harry on July 3, 2008

I believe that Peter Tatchell is planning to run for the Greens in Oxford East against Andrew Smith at the next election. What he ought to be, of course, is a rather dreary backbencher who held a minor position in Blair’s first and second governments, but quietly resigned in the lead up to the Iraq war. At least, that’s what he’d be if the Labour Party hadn’t decided to make him something else. Jonathan Derbyshire has a very fair and accurate account of Labour’s more minor but nevertheless spectacular own goals of the eighties.