Sunday, August 07, 2005

Killer App 

Had the accounting program Visicalc never been invented, the personal computer might never have caught on, and you might at this very moment be -- what? Curing cancer? Running for public office? Teaching your children to read, or play music, or paint? Banging a loved one (though not, we hope, a parent or close relative)? -- instead of reading King of Zembla. Yet here you are, and as subscribers to the Zemblanthropic principle we can only conclude that this is exactly what the intelligent designers of Visicalc had in mind for you, for had their coding been off by so much as a line or two, a single GOSUB statement even, the program would not have worked, and the personal computer would not have caught on, and Blogspot would never have evolved into the powerful tool for personal expression that -- well, it didn't, actually, but you get the idea.

We mention all this by way of asking you to imagine the debt future generations of lefty bloggers will certainly owe to Suicidegirls.com:
THE makers of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas are facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission after it emerged that explicit sex scenes were hidden inside the popular game's software . . . .

But it is not the first time technology has been used to offer people a sneaky peek at sex. The "adult entertainment" industry embraced video cassettes, DVDs and the web more quickly than its mainstream counterparts because these media are tailor-made for private viewing. Consumers eager for a glimpse of skin, but afraid of being found out or of being spotted in a seedy blue-movie cinema, helped drive the demand for more of these technologies.

In the process, they are making the internet a more hospitable place for those promoting racial, ethnic or religious hatred, or even organising terrorist attacks. But it will also help political dissidents and whistle-blowers, so technologies created to help porn enthusiasts today are the human rights' tools of tomorrow . . . .

"I would definitely expect people to use a tool like Tor to get around geolocation," says Roger Dingledine, who works with Mathewson on Tor development. "Part of the goal of Tor is to put all the users on neutral ground, so they can't be singled out and treated differently based on where they're coming from." Tor has received funding from the US navy, which is interested in using the technology to snoop at websites without being identified, as well as San Francisco-based civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Other researchers, such as Ian Goldberg, the chief scientist of security specialist Zero-Knowledge Systems, are developing ways to exchange instant messages while shielding users from being identified. Goldberg's Off-the-Record (OTR) messaging protocol allows people to send messages using encryption keys that are discarded after each use, so even if a snooper finds the key for one messaging session, they cannot decrypt another session. Whether the conversation is about naughty fantasies or human rights' violations, spies won't be able to find out who was talking or what was said.

Now that technical developments and social forces have left the web about as private as a room of surveillance cameras, it is often the secretive hunt for porn that creates a market for new technologies such as Tor and OTR messaging. In turn we end up with tools that can also be used to promote liberty and justice. That's good news for political dissidents and human rights workers - as well as anyone who feels their browsing is nobody's business but their own.
So you see, honey, it's not just the T&A, the pierced hoods, the mature anal grannies, and the bra photos. It's the principle of the thing.


| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us