I couldn’t help wondering about the privacy implications of airlines calling out people’s names over the airport PA system.
In Sydney and Melbourne airports recently I lost count of announcements along the lines of ‘Would Mr and Mrs X of flight X to X please go to gate X where their plane, and hundreds of their fellow passengers, are waiting patiently for them to board’, usually along with some humorous and belittling remark or two, which I have to say I found hugely amusing initially.
But then I got to thinking: What if it was me? What if it was someone who was having serious medical problems in the washroom? What if it was someone travelling incognito with someone who wasn’t their wife, or on some sensitive errand? What if someone already on the plane decided they’d be inconvenienced enough and jotted down the tardy passengers’ name to wreak revenge later?
Maybe it’s paranoia and an overworked privacy gland, but I’m not sure that, in this present version of the world, airlines and airports should be quite so fast and loose with announcements that identify individuals, their flight numbers and their embarrassment.
TechNewsWorld, in an article entitled “Worm Variants Part of Russian Mafia Extortion Scheme”, quotes Gartner research director Richard Stiennon told TechNewsWorld as saying of the recent spate of computer worms: “the real intent of the dueling viruses is to deny site availability to online gaming companies and other sites that have not complied with Russian mobsters’ demands”. But is it? And who are these ‘mobsters’?
Stiennon is quoted as saying, “The worm writers this time around are really cyber criminals in Russia. They’re using [the worms] to recruit bots (compromised computers) to launch denial-of-service attacks, mostly against online gaming sites, after failing to extort large payments from the sites.”
Unfortunately there’s no further evidence provided about just who these mobsters are. I’m willing to believe that some Russians are behind it, and I’d love to see some evidence that online casinos are being extorted, but I’m less willing to believe it’s the Russian Mafia (or mob). In Russia the mafia are a quite distinct — and very powerful — part of the establishment, but they’re not quite the same thing as the range of individuals, and loose-knit groups, that populate Russia’s online world.
This kind of report has been doing the rounds for at least a year (The Russian Mafia were also suspected of being behind the October 2000 assault on Microsoft’s servers). I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I think those who utter it have a responsibility to produce more evidence than we’ve seen so far.
More on the story about The Sims Online and the seedy goings on in Alphaville. The Independent’s Andrew Gumbel writes about the case, saying the expulsion of academic Peter Ludlow from the game “was only the beginning of a fascinating new phase”.
Since then, he says, “Electronic Arts, through its online game controller, Maxis, has been cracking down on bad behaviour to clean up Alphaville and, one assumes, try and boost its audience which is stuck at a 80,000 (EA had hoped for a million by now). Evangeline and the psycho-granny have been disciplined, as have various mafia syndicates and a parallel city government set up as a player-based alternative form of authority.”
He then talks about the philosophical aspects of all this, which make for interesting reading.
The Sims Online – an Internet-only world where ordinary folk can take on another persona and interact with other folk virtually — seems to be exhibiting all the signs of the real world, with a twist. Salon carries an article about a Sims community called Alphaville, and some of its citizens, including an academic called Urizenus (in real life, Michigan philosophy professor Peter Ludlow), a young man (or, possibly, a boy) called Evangeline, allegations of extortion, and the possible existence of a virtual brothel.
The story is well worth a read (subscription or day pass only), if only for the moral responsibilities a corporation running a community may have. If someone opens a virtual brothel for online folk to indulge in a little cyber-sex, is the company managing that world — in this case Electronic Arts — guilty of prostitution? And what happens if there’s evidence the ‘madam’ of that brothel, and some of its employees, are underage? And then, exploring the matter further, is Electronic Arts guilty of censorship by terminating the account of the academic who chronicled such allegations in his online newspaper, Alphaville Herald? And if there’s (ultimately) real money involved, should the police be called in to this virtual world?
I’m not surprised a philosophy professor is interested in these kind of issues. Going back to the early days of the Internet, the virtual world has a habit of impinging on the real. In that sense there’s nothing different between real estate and virtual estate. If humans interact on it, it’s turf and it needs to be policed. It will be interesting to see how EA handle this case, and whether they start patrolling their creation more thoroughly. And if they do, will it cease to be economically viable?
More discussion on this on Slashdot. Here’s an ‘interview’ by Ludlow with Evangeline (parental discretion advised, via Boing Boing Blog)