Monday, December 14, 2020

Section 230 Lessons from Pornhub's Retreat

Under pressure from Visa and MasterCard, pornhub, the world's largest porn empire, has abruptly taken the majority of its videos offline, under pressure because its unvetted user-supplied videos included depictions of terrible crimes.

It's long overdue for porn sites to take responsibility for user-uploaded atrocities.  But pressuring Pornhub on this issue is only feasible due to the near-universal condemnation of the content, the relatively clear-cut criteria for banning content, and the reality that Visa and MasterCard are the global porn police. 

Most other content disputes, however, can’t so easily reach consensus on questions of clarity, morality, and practicality.  That’s why we have section 230.  Without section 230, almost any content provider (particularly social media) would be vulnerable to legal challenges not just over explicit and clearly illegal depictions of rape and child pornography, but over nearly any kind of content dispute, initiated by nearly anyone, in nearly any venue, and nearly always without recourse to an all-powerful enforcement authority.

Content providers would inevitably become more lawsuit-averse.  One might imagine that the legal burdens of a 230-free world might tend to drive out extremes and nudge our discourse back to a happier centrism. But unfortunately, in the legal arena it's likely that the "center" would be defined largely by wealth and power, among other things.  The most marginalized voices would have the least room even to express their views in public.

What kinds of content might dwindle in a world without section 230?

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

My Br@ther's Dementia and Bad UX Design

In the middle of the day, the networked Brother printer stopped working.  Although I was hundreds of miles from my Ph.D. hood, I remembered the sacred incantation:  reboot everything.  Nowadays this is almost a cure-all, but not so this time.  I rebooted the printer, network, and client.  No Joy.

I checked the printer’s configuration.  In a sudden fit of dementia, it had completely forgotten the wireless network.  So I configured it anew, and… it told me I had the wrong wifi access code.

Now, this is a password that is easy to mistype, so I tried again.   Then I questioned my memory and tried a variant a few times.   Then I went to my son-in-law and confirmed my original memory of the password.  With renewed certainty, I tried again.  Several times.  Nope.  Adding insult to injury, my helpful Brother printed an error page every time the authentication failed, so every password attempt killed a bit of a tree.

And that’s when I happened to notice something squirrelly about the Brother keyboard.  Throwing caution to the wind, I will reveal that the access code I was typing contained an “@“ sign.  

The Brother printer helpfully provides an @ on the primary keyboard — prioritizing it over even the comma, as if one types email addresses into the printer all that often — and that’s what I had been using -- lower right, above the friendly "OK": 

But then, by chance, I noticed something odd:  the tertiary keyboard is all symbols, and it ALSO has an @ -- at far right, center:

I tried one more time, now using the @ from the third screen rather than the first.  Worked perfectly.  

It's an old printer, but you'd have to be older than me for this to be an acceptable design flaw.  A novel entry in the User Interface Hall of Shame.