Friday, June 11, 2010

(empo-tuulwey) I guess you can call it net neutrality

Back in March, Jake Kuramoto wrote a post that discussed the factors that contributed to an outstanding software application. Kuramoto argued that a software developer needs to balance simplicity, purpose, and incentive to make an application truly useful. He cited an example:

Facebook used to be simple, but as it’s become increasingly complex, they have relied on increases in the other areas, i.e. stronger incentive and purpose. You first joined to be connected to people, and that purpose only gets stronger as more people join. Plus, you’ve been posting photos and adding social artifacts for so long that quitting becomes a big disincentive.

I immediately began to take that formula (I referred to it as "Kuramoto's Equation") and applied it to some unsavory areas.

In April, I wrote a post entitled Misusing Kuramoto's Equation to Develop Social Engineering Strategies for Identity Theft. Specifically, I evaluated a case in which someone posed as a census worker to obtain someone's date of birth and Social Security Number. In the process, the fake census worker "old the victim that she was required by Title 12 of the federal government to provide him with that information and that it was against the law to refuse to provide such information."

I wrote:

The strategy is certainly simple - the "census worker" shows up at your door and makes the whole process easy. The purpose - to complete the census - is obvious. And there is a clear incentive - if you cooperate with the "census worker," then you will be complying with the so-called Title 12 legal requirements.

I cited a couple of other examples:

If the low-level employee provides the password so that the executive can read his/her email, then the low-level employee gets to keep his/her job.

If you provide your bank account information and a small payment to the brother in law of the deceased Minister of Finance in a remote African country, then you will receive millions of dollars.

In case it's not obvious, I should emphasize that this is NOT what Jake Kuramoto had in mind in his original post.

Kuramoto himself later looked at the topic of bad uses of tools, in his post entitled I Hate Phishing. This is what he said:

I’m really not sure why the PayPal phishing email I saw today irritated me so much. I think it’s because the phishers are using fear as a motivator, e.g. the phrase “in order to prevent the use of the banking system in terrorist and other illegal activity,” which loosely translates to “if you don’t update your PayPal information, the terrorists win.”

It’s one thing to run a 419 scam that plays on greed, but I loathe the manipulation of fear or kindness in schemes like this.

Jake and I had an online conversation about this beginning here. Perhaps it's just an issue of semantics between Jake and myself, but Jake is clearly distressed about his original positive concept being applied to negative things.

So, in deference to Jake, I will henceforth only use the phrase "Kuramoto's Equation" when talking about positive findings of simplicity, purpose, and incentive. (Although the Liszkiewiczs of the world may not regard Farmville as a positive thing.) When talking about NEGATIVE applications of the simplicity/purpose/incentive (or disincentive) formula, I will instead refer to Bredehoft's Corollary.

Basically, this is a reminder that ANY technological advance may be used for either good or evil. The same airplane that allows me to meet friends all over the world can fly into a building and kill thousands of people. That wonderful application that lets you anonymous praise people can also be used to anonymously abuse them. The mouse that helps me to write these words of wisdom in the Empoprise-BI business blog can also give me carpal tunnel syndrome.

The important thing to remember is that in most cases (some would argue ALL cases) the technology itself is not evil - only the way in which we apply it is evil.

I've previously noted a couple of examples of people joking engaging in the "blame Facebook" game. But some people are not joking, and are convinced that the service itself is evil by design. Mother Jones:

"There is something seriously wrong with their business ethics," says Thomas Baekdal, "when they even contemplate publishing content that was previously marked private."

Ya think? As near as I can tell, Facebook's business model is to periodically chip away at privacy settings, wait for the inevitable blowup, maybe give up a little bit of what they changed, and then wait for the fuss to blow over. Then six months later do it all over again. Rinse and repeat. Slowly but surely, they'll be able to monetize every last bit of our lives and we'll all be so tired we won't even care. Or even notice.

On the other end of the political spectrum, I figured that I'd search for an extreme conservative Christian group who claims that Facebook is a Satanic tool, managed by the supercomputer in Brussels, and that Facebook credits are the "mark of the beast" cited in Revelation. I searched...but I found an August 30 invitation to a "Mark of the Beast" sermon, a discussion on the Mark of the Beast, and a separate discussion of the Mark.

All of these are on Facebook.

Either Satan has already infiltrated the believers' ranks and duped us into using this evil software...or perhaps the software itself is neutral.
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