Enter DOPA: Expansion of the nanny state

CNET is reporting on the passage in the House of DOPA, the Deleting Online Predators Act, which aims to impose a federal mandate for libraries and schools to restrict access to MySpace and other sites that offer chat room or social functionality — in other words, most of the Internet — to minors. The legislation appears to be very broad, as it targets any site that permits the creation of a “public profile.” So, in other words, this includes most blogs (including this very site), message boards, chat rooms, Facebook, MySpace…you name it.

Here’s my take: It’s poor legislation that I think attacks the wrong problem the wrong way. There are perfectly legitimate academic uses for some discussion sites and blogs, I think. Yes, Internet predators are a real problem, and we have to deal with them, but let’s not ignore the possibility of predators at playgrounds and other public places. They’re still out there as well. What do we do? Ban the usage of playgrounds by minors? Restrict minors to a federally-mandated curfew? What kind of parent lets their kid onto the Internet without supervision anyway? I don’t know too many parents who let their young children out on a playground, or any public place, without some kind of supervision. The playground isn’t responsible for watching the children, the parents are. Why does the Internet have to be any different? Our government clearly knows next to nothing about how the Internet works (see Ted Stevens’ rant about “internet tubes” for a prime example) but wants to legislate the living hell out of it because it’s still relatively new and must be a breeding ground for lawlessness and anarchy. That, and it represents the circumvention of traditional media controls for the free exchange of ideas, and that seems to threaten a lot of people.

Sophos: Switch to a Mac if you value security

The BBC reports that Internet security firm Sophos is recommending users to switch to Macs to avoid malware installed over the Internet.

Does this make some sense? Absolutely — there’s very little malware currently available for Mac OS X. However, security through obscurity is only a temporary condition, and that any mass exodus to Macintosh, however unlikely that may be, will ultimately bring with it a torrent of malware. Granted, the Mac OS X architecture does make it much more difficult to bundle malware applications. Not having its browser totally integrated into the OS is a good start. However, a little social engineering goes a long way. That’s how most malware is installed these days, and there isn’t — and there may never be — any effective software solution for overcoming that. Education is the key.

Personally, I think Windows Vista will improve this situation quite well for Windows users — it’s so secure, you can’t even delete a shortcut without confirming it three times. :P In all seriousness, decoupling IE from the operating system — something Microsoft once said was “impossible” (ha!) — will make a big difference on Vista. I’ve also noticed that Windows XP Service Pack 2 has had a lot to do with alleviating this problem. There’s still that lousy social engineering aspect, though, and it all comes back to user education, because no operating system is 100% secure. I’ll leave how to tackle user education to another post or 40…LOL. Time to go to bed.

J

Switching back to Internet Explorer

So I’m thinking I’m going to switch back to Internet Explorer. For all the problems it may have, ActiveX is still so amazingly convenient for plugins (plus additional free software, like BonziBUDDY, that really helps me through my day), I love scrolling marquees and background sounds (and have missed them terribly in Firefox), and, well, it’s the browser every Web person designs for ANYWAY.

Thoughts?

“OMG POLICE ON TEH MYSPACE”

There seems to be a lot of concern these days about putting stuff on MySpace or Facebook accounts (to name a couple types) that may be incriminating. Justified? Totally. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if police agencies, employers, etc. are poking around there looking for clues about you and your activities. Whether this is right or not is an extremely loaded topic for another day. Regardless of whatever ethics are involved, people absolutely should watch what they write on their MySpace accounts. The Internet is wide-open to the entire world. What’s posted on one site can be read anywhere else. People talk about this as if it’s a new thing; seasoned Web publishers know from the early days of the Internet not to post anything they wouldn’t want to see in a newspaper that their parents, friends, co-workers, lovers, etc. would read the next day.

For the first time, however, this rule is hitting the mainstream in a huge way. MySpace has made Web publishing (I use the term loosely) accessible to a vast majority of people who would have never considered it before. It doesn’t matter how good you are with computers to do it; they’ve made it nearly foolproof to do so. Unfortunately, this is like a bunch of people jumping into cars without ever learning the rules of the road, and as a result, it’s not difficult to find sites laden with pictures or written accounts of activities that may be considered sub-legal. However, there is an illusion amongst unseasoned Internet publishers that what they write can only be seen by their friends, etc. They’re sorely mistaken if this is what they think. The rule ALWAYS applies – if your friends can read it, so can everyone else with access to a computer with Internet connectivity — and this doesn’t exclude people one would want NOT to read their profile.

So yes, the hype is perfectly justified, but nothing to fear – it’s just time to play by the same rules I and (most) other Web content publishers have adhered to for the last 10+ years.

Impromptu IE 7 (almost) Beta 2 Review

A few thoughts while working with Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview:

  • Installation was very, very fast. A lot faster, in fact, than previous versions of IE. And at 11 MB, it’s a smaller download, too (mainly because all those extra apps simply aren’t bundled anymore). Running the Malicious Software Removal Tool before installing the new version of IE is a really great touch. Doing Genuine Advantage Validation AGAIN is not. I thought I was finished with that roadblock once I validated my installation in Windows Update? Microsoft really likes checking up on installations to make sure they’re legit time and time again. We have to activate so we can continue to use the operating system for any reasonable length of time; we have to revalidate the OS when we go to Windows Update; and Lord knows how many times thereafter we’ll have to revalidate. Can’t this all be tied to the product activation key that we get after setup? Sorry, I got off on a tangent…
  • The interface is clearly designed for Windows Vista, and as such makes for a very confusing backport to Windows XP. The buttons all over the interface are clearly created under Windows Vista guidelines, the traditional “File/Edit/View/Tools/Favorites/Help” menu is hidden until you press “Alt” (and I found that by accident), and the toolbars are largely uncustomizable. It took me a few minutes to find the Links bar and get that displaying again. It displays acceptably if you use Luna as your theme, but it’s downright horrid if you use Classic mode in XP (as I do).
  • border-style: dotted FINALLY works the way it was intended – no more dashed line crap. Firefox still displays this and dashed borders more cleanly, however.
  • I’ve yet to try PNG-24 transparency. I really hope it works this time. (Update: After six years since it was first implemented in IE 5.5 as a DirectX ImageTransform method, it FINALLY works the way it was supposed to.)
  • The “Quick Tabs” feature, in which each of your open tabs are displayed as thumbnails in a preview window, must be ported to Firefox as an extension. It’s that sweet. I could see myself seriously missing that feature in Firefox.
  • Feed discovery works as expected, and the RSS reader built into IE is pretty sweet, if not a bit of a rip from Safari 2.0. I need to try embedding a feed in the Links bar and seeing if it will cascade out a la Firefox’s Live Bookmarks feature.
  • Zoom is surprisingly good, resizing all text and images on the screen rather well. It seems to use a DirectX filter to do the image resizing.
  • ClearType appears to be enabled for all Web pages, regardless of the setting in Windows XP. I already am a religious user of ClearType (an absolute must on LCDs, so-so on CRTs) so I didn’t notice until I saw it in IE’s options.
  • All of the old Windows 95-era icons for the security zones appear to finally have been eradicated. It sure took them long enough. It’s little inconsistencies like this that blow my mind sometimes.

I’ll have a bit more on this later when I have some more time to really play with it and see how it goes. The improvements found in this prerelease version are very encouraging but I wish Microsoft would continue to do more work in the web standards arena for final (I still have issues with borders not being applied in places where every other browser – including the Mac version of IE – would apply them.)