Monthly Archives: April 2011

Italian Retardedness, Google, and the Open Web

Google Loses Autocomplete Defamation Case

The above story, from slashdot.org, just reinforces my already solidified opinion that the world is ruled by stupid.  This belief is fairly common to those of us who work in IT; it’s reaffirmed each and every damn day.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s the /. summary:

Google has been found liable in an Italian court for defamatory comments made against an anonymous plaintiff — the complainant’s name, when googled, elicited autocomplete suggestions that translate as ‘con man’ and ‘fraud.’ Google was found not to qualify for EU ‘safe harbour’ protection because the autocomplete suggestions were deemed to be Google’s own creation, and not something merely passing through its systems.

Riiiiight… here’s the problem, though: Google’s autocomplete suggestions are essentially user-generated content. If people commonly search for your name along with the terms ‘con-man’ and ‘fraud’, those are going to show up in autocomplete. That’s how the (excellent) algorithm works. The bigger problem comes down to this: in most (civilized) countries, courts have held that blogs are not responsible for the content of user-generated content, i.e., comments, etc. Copyright infringement is one thing, but short of a DMCA takedown notice, if someone comments on your blog that “Bill O’Reilly is Hitler’s lovechild,” that opinion is owned by the commenter, not the blogger. This ruling is essentially making (in Italy) user-generated content the responsibility of the site operator. OK, a search algorithm is not a blog. And I don’t know the specifics of the case. And IANAL. But this much is clear:

  1. Italian courts are offensive to the notion of justice. Far be it from me to defend the way the United States does anything, but I think most people will agree that any civilized notion of justice affords the accused the right to challenge the accuser to his/her face. Otherwise, we get secret military tribunals, Gitmo, and… oh, wait, I’m just defending the way the US used to do things. I feel better.
  2. An algorithm is not an act of volition. Libel should require intent, or at least gross negligence.
  3. Italy is fucking with my lulz. Srsly, have you seen some of the funny crap that comes up with autocomplete on Google search? I work in IT. I need my autocomplete-me’s on failblog.org to get through the day. If frivolous, retarded lawsuits like this eff that up, I’m going to blow a damn gasket.
  4. Fuck Italy. When China wanted to mess up Google’s mojo, they just shut down their China operation. If I were Larry Page right now, I would immediately shut down google.it and tell the Italian courts to suck it. If Egypt and Libya have proven anything, nothing pisses off a populace like fucking with their interwebz. Maybe the Italian people will revolt, hang the judges from the highest rafter, and institute a slightly less-retarded government. Here’s hoping.

Yes, this post has been over the top, hyperbolic, even. But really, Italy? Defamation by autocomplete? I hope Google removes ever .it entry from their free DNS service, shuts down google.it, and sends your tech sector back to 1997. Because this is some fucked up shit.

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BbWorld Transact

So, for those of you who don’t know, I work in the ID Card Services Systems team at Johns Hopkins University. Most of my (paid) development work involves creating a custom, (mostly) Ruby on Rails web interface to the Blackboard Transact transaction processing system. It’s pretty interesting work, adapting Rails/ActiveRecord to this proprietary database format to do all the things we want it to do. Sometimes it’s frustrating, especially with dealing with importing data from other departments’ maddening stovepipe systems, but, all in all, pretty rewarding. And then it all got exciting.

Last week, our team went to the BbWorld Transact conference at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Not only was it great fun to head out to the Southwestern desert in March, escaping the Mid-Atlantic doldrums, but it was a truly exciting and invigorating experience.

Sure, we were giving a presentation on the web app I’ve developing for the past seven months or so (read: 9,383,094 years of ASP development or 87 years of PHP development, subjective time), and that was pretty damn exciting. So was the response. People were crowding the table at our session collecting our business cards, hoping we could get permission to put this code up on GitHub (I hope so, too).

But what’s got me the most pumped was my experiences of the conference itself. Starting with a keynote from Bridgeworks, LLC, about “millenials” and the desire for connectedness, the conference delved into a new commitment to openness and transparency from Blackboard, which, as a developer, gets me psyched. There’s nothing like support from the vendor supplying the system you’re developing against.

We had some great meetings with the Transact product development team, as well as Sony‘s FeliCa team, and I haven’t been so excited about the code I’m getting (paid) to write in a long time. Already, we have proof-of-concept code in the works to do Twitter tweets and Foursquare check-ins via card swipes.

The coding is only going ot get sexier from here on out.


Why I love Ruby (part 2)

II was going to write a second installment, but I think DHH has said it all for me…