Tag Archives: Cory Doctorow

No, the “UK national firewall” doesn’t block Boing Boing, EFF and slashdot

Government-mandated web filtering is a really bad idea, for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who’s used the Internet for long. I’m against them: I think it should be up to adults to decide what they see, and for parents to decide what their children see.

However, in opposing them, it’s really important that we don’t go off the deep end and cry wolf about what ISPs are doing. That’s why I find Cory’s post at Boing Boing about how “UK’s new national firewall: O2′s “parental control” list blocks Slashdot, EFF, and Boing Boing” concerning. 

Cory’s post takes it’s lead from another post by Peter Hansteen, which points at o2′s URL checker, which lets you see whether an individual site is blocked by o2′s web filters. The third setting – “Parental Control” – appears to block pretty-much the whole internet.

However, I think this is misleading, and conflating two very different sets of filters. The site checker Peter linked to is, I believe, related to o2′s mobile service, not its broadband service (which is now part of Sky). In common with most mobile companies, o2 has a default blacklist, which can you opt out of easily. It also has a set of much stricter “Parental control” setting which allows parents to tightly lock-down what a child with a mobile can see. It’s this second “Parental control” setting that’s basically blocks everything on the internet, apart from a handful of “child-friendly” sites.

I don’t think this is anything to do with the government mandated porn block. It’s just the same mobile filtering that’s always been there, and that’s common across pretty-much every mobile company. I can’t imagine why anyone would change any child’s mobile to basically block the whole of the internet, but it’s opt-in, and it should be up to the parents.

Sky, which now owns o2′s former broadband service (not the mobile network), does have a system of DNS-based filtering called “Broadband Shield” which is compliant with the government-”requested” filtering system. Although I haven’t run through it, it seems to work like this: when you sign up to Sky as a new customer, you’re presented with filtering options. The default setting is on, but you can change it at this point. (More details in Sky’s response to ORG’s questions about it). The “PG” and “18″ level filtering is, of course, as much riddled with inconsistency as any other filtering system, but it’s not the “OMG BLOCK EVERYTHING” that o2′s mobile parental controls are.

UPDATE: And now this piece on the New Statesman is making the same error, conflating pre-existing filters on a mobile network with Cameron’s “porn blocking” plans. This is crying wolf. The two things are not the same. For the love of god, people, let’s have a grown up debate that actually deals with the facts, rather than sensationalising things.

The myth of “programming is the only creativity”

One of the often-used memes concerning Apple’s approach to iOS is that it’s for “passive consumers”, people who aren’t creative. In an interesting post on Google App Inventor, O’Reilly’s Mike Loukides dredges this one up again – and I think Mike is committing a classic geek error.

Mike contrasts the approach of App Inventor, which is designed to encourage simple programs for Android, to the higher barrier of entry for development on iPhone, and concludes that it’s a cultural difference:

“But Google has taken another direction altogether: the user’s experience isn’t going to be perfect, but the user’s experience will be the experience he or she wants. If you want to do something, you can build it yourself; you can put it on your own phone without going through a long approval process; you don’t have to learn an arcane programming language. This is computing for the masses. It’s computing that enables people to be creative, not just passive consumers.” [My emphasis]

Here’s Mike’s first error: Conflating “creativity” with programming, and “passivity” with, well, everything else. Mike isn’t the first to do this – I think my friend Cory Doctorow is responsible for the meme, as I pointed out in an earlier post. I’d argue, in fact, that the history of computing teaches us the exact opposite: the less people are required to learn programming in order to be creative with computers, the more creative work you get.

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Cory is wrong, Nick is right

Nick Sweeney is (1) one of the cleverest and most astute people I know and (2) doesn’t post anywhere near often enough. Fact Number Two is probably connected to Fact Number One.

In the comments to his post on the iPad, which you should go read right now, he more ably puts the argument against Cory’s anti-iPad screed than I possibly could:

“I am so over the idealistic belief that every computer user is a latent hacker-maker-coder who just lacks the right tools. I am so over the idea that access to the cornucopia of creative and insightful and useful stuff that’s available online requires either a boatload of foundational computing skills or extensive hand-holding. While I have no objections to those battles being fought out in the computing space I inhabit, I am personally done with this guild-mentality shit.”

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, he adds this:

“What particularly annoyed me [about Cory's post] was his image of a purported user as a passive, bloated ‘consumer’, as if the only makers that matter are the ones assembling crochet-covered Arduino-powered companion cubes to sell on Etsy. Well, bollocks to that.”

I argued with Cory about this on Twitter earlier, bailing out mainly in deference to the fact that I know Alice would tell the pair of us off for converting her Twitter stream into a slanging match.

But before I let Cory have the last word, it became pretty apparent to me that Cory’s point conflates creativity with coding, and prizes hacking over any other kind of creativity. So what if the iPad enables more people to do more creative things – to write, to paint, to communicate, to play with pictures, to learn. None of that matters, because you can’t write code for it (unless you pay Apple $99 and accept the hegemony of the App Store).

This just seems wrong to me. It places the primacy on geek-creativity, at the expense of every other kind. That is a remarkably narrow world view.

My position is the same as Nick’s, which he ably-explains:

“If the iPad truly abstracts away the whole ‘using a computer’ bit of using a computer, it will make me very happy. If another device comes along that does the same thing without DRM or developer lock-in, then like Andre I’ll embrace it. (Before anyone chips in: no, the Archos is not that device.) If that kind of lock-in comes to OS X proper, I’ll resent it, resist it and reject it. But it’s been nearly 30 years since I received my first home computer, and it’s about time everyone else got to play without it requiring informal training, monthly VNC sessions, and every family gathering turning into onsite tech support.”

Until the open-platform people step up to the plate and make an open machine that matches this, I, too, will be using an iPad.

The ball is in their court.

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