Deception By Design: Dark Patterns

Dark PatternsWhile reading Rian van der Merwe‘s enlightening A Dad’s Plea To Developers Of iPad Apps For Children over at Smashing Magazine‘s site, I spotted an intriguing link and meandered right out of the article. Thanks to Rian’s keen writing and my curiosity-driven clicking, I eventually landed at Harry Brignull‘s illuminating Dark Patterns wiki. What I found was an engrossing presentation about why and how user experience designers sometimes go over to the “dark side” and develop user interfaces that trick people.

I watched the presentation and explored the accompanying links and resources. As I did, I began to think about a number of for-profit educational sites I’ve visited or seen others use. The next time I return to these sites I’ll be looking at their design with new eyes.

The Continuous Copyright Caper

Cue the sinister-sounding music. Enter a nefarious group of greedy people hell-bent on extending the perpetuity of copyright. Like a band of film noir thugs, they spread out to operate in the shadows where they cause collective mayhem. And now the reveal: supporters of restrictive copyright law have been up to their villainous business for quite a while. Timothy B. Lee of Arstechnica reports that ACTA is actually part of a multi-decade, worldwide copyright campaign.

Worldwide Copyright Campaign

Something’s Rotten: The Research Works Act

The Research Works Act StinksPrivate interests are attacking the public good. How? Big-monied journal publishers (like Elsevier, the target of an interesting boycott) have convinced two members of Congress, Darrell Issa (CA) and Carolyn Maloney (NY) to shepherd a bill called the Research Works Act into law.

The whole affair stinks.

Here’s why: the Research Works Act’s purpose is to restrict public access to publicly-funded research. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though the public is funding research, journal publishers do not want the public to have access to the resulting research.

Presently, the our government appropriates something to the tune of $30 billion of funding each year for health-related research. That money is dispensed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because the funding is made possible through the cooperation of taxpayers, the NIH currently follows an open access mandate, stipulating that all NIH-funded research be made freely accessible 12 months after publication. As it stands, that 12 month time frame (a paywall) is a good thing for journal publishers. It gives the publishers an opportunity to recover costs incurred. No one is particularly upset about that. After the 12 months is over, the public has its opportunity to access the research.

However, the objective of the Research Works Act is to effectively reverse the current open access policy. If the RWA becomes law, all publicly-funded research would remain locked away behind publisher paywalls in perpetuity. Why should US taxpayers have to pay for research twice–once to fund the research and then again, a second time to read it?

The answer is simple: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to!

Related Resources:

Internet Access: Rural Georgia NOT Included

Bloomberg View columnist, Susan P. Crawford, lays out a good case for publicly owned internet service. The author notes,

The Georgia legislature is currently considering a bill that would effectively make it impossible for any city in the state to provide for high-speed Internet access networks — even in areas in which the private sector cannot or will not.


Why would my state’s legislators (like Senator Rogers) want to prevent local and municipal governments from supplying internet connectivity to their communities? For that matter, I can’t imagine why commercial interests who refuse to provide service to rural areas would actively lobby my state legislature to prevent municipalities from doing it themselves.

Crawford goes on to say:

The Georgia bill is chock-full of sand traps and areas of deep statutory fog from which no local public network is likely ever to emerge. In addition to the ordinary public hearings that any municipality would hold on the subject, a town looking to build a public network would have to hold a referendum. It wouldn’t be allowed to spend any money in support of its position (there would be no such prohibition on the deep-pocketed incumbents). The community wouldn’t be allowed to support its network with local taxes or surplus revenues from any other services (although incumbents routinely and massively subsidize their networks with revenue from other businesses).

Most pernicious of all, the public operator would have to include in the costs of its service the phantom, imputed “capital costs” and “taxes” of a private provider. This is a fertile area for disputes, litigation and delay, as no one knows what precise costs and taxes are at issue, much less how to calculate these amounts. The public provider would also have to comply with all laws and “requirements” applicable to “the communications service,” if it were made available by “a private provider,” although again the law doesn’t specify which service is involved or which provider is relevant.

The end result of all this vague language will be to make it all but impossible for a city to obtain financing to build its network. Although the proponents of Georgia’s bill claim that they are merely trying to create a level playing field, these are terms and conditions that no new entrant, public or private, can meet — and that the incumbents themselves do not live by. You can almost hear the drafters laughing about how impossible the entire enterprise will be.

What makes this whole episode particularly odious is how desperately rural Georgia needs high-speed internet access. I’ve spent two decades–as a classroom teacher, an instructional technologist, a digital content developer, and university professor–trying to help my (non-metro) area of the state improve the quality of education through the meaningful integration of technology. I know rural students who would love to enroll in online classes. I know teachers who would like to be able to digitally connect with and support learners beyond the classroom day. I know small town businesses and citizens who would like to have the same opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. These folks would appreciate high-speed internet access. I think any public figure who would come forward and make that happen would be a hero.

Do we have anyone like that in our legislature in Georgia?

Related Resources:

Following up on Pegoraro’s story, the map below was created by the the FCC. It shows the areas identified as potentially eligible for Mobility Fund Phase 1 support. Look at the black spots. Those are areas where there is no mobile broadband service. Specifically, these areas are, according to the FCC

US Census blocks that lack 3G or better mobile coverage at the centroid of the block according to January 2012 American Roamer data and contain road miles in any of nine road categories. Counties that contain any of these blocks are shaded light gray, and as you zoom in and mouse over these counties you will see more information on the potentially eligible blocks, including population, road miles (S1100, S1200, and S1400 categories only), and the name and number of the CMA in which the blocks are located. Further zooming in allows you to see the US Census tracts that contain these blocks.

If S1100, S1200, and S1400 categories don’t mean anything to you don’t feel embarrassed. At first, they didn’t mean anything to me either. A little digging into the 2009 TIGER/Line Shapefiles Technical Documentation yielded a helpful pdf document:
  • S1100: Primary roads are generally divided, limited-access highways within the interstate highway system or under state management, and are distinguished by the presence of interchanges. These highways are accessible by ramps and may include some toll highways.
  • S1200: Secondary roads are main arteries, usually in the U.S. Highway, State Highway or County Highway system. These roads have one or more lanes of traffic in each direction, may or may not be divided, and usually have at-grade intersections with many other roads and driveways. They often have both a local name and a route number.
  • S1400: Generally a paved non-arterial street, road, or byway that usually has a single lane of traffic in each direction. Roads in this feature class may be privately or publicly maintained. Scenic park roads would be included in this feature class, as would (depending on the region of the country) some unpaved roads.

CMA refers to (I think) Census Metropolitan Area.

SOPA, PIPA and Now H.R. 1981: How Much Do You Value Your Privacy?

Big Brother is Watching YouSOPA and PIPA were bad enough but now it seems as if government leaders are now hatching a new plot to undermine our civil liberties. How? At first glance, H.R. 1981: Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 seems like a well-intentioned piece of legislation; however, we need only look as far as the name of its sponsor, the infamous Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) of radioactive SOPA renown to feel a sense of skepticism kick into overdrive.

That skepticism is well-founded.

Why? Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, reports that Smith’s newest outrage is a data retention mandate that plants the seeds for a police state that treats internet users like criminals. It’s dangerous legislation that threatens to destroy online privacy and free speech rights of every citizen. There is no language in the bill that limits its scope only to matters pertaining to investigations of child pornography. It’s an excuse to snoop. According to Declan McCullagh of CNET, if the bill becomes law, ISPs (internet service providers) would be required to keep logs of their customers’ activities for an entire year just in case police want to review the logs at a later date. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said H.R. 1981 ought to truthfully be referred to as the “Keep Every American’s Digital Data for Submission to the Federal Government Without a Warrant Act.”

What A Difference A Day Makes…

SOPA/PIPA Protest in NYC Yesterday

Andrew Dallos captured this at a SOPA/PIPA Protest in NYC Yesterday

As I write this post, ProPublica’s timely Where Do Your Members of Congress Stand on SOPA and PIPA? reports that there are now 122 legislators opposing SOPA/PIPA. Ars Technica notes that both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are backing away from PIPA. Even so, Firedog Lake’s David Dayen explains why Democrats aren’t shying away from SOPA/PIPA as much as their colleagues across the aisle. Daily Kos is a bit more vehement in its assessment of a lesson that seems lost on the Democratic party.

SOPA and PIPA: You Make the Call

Despite believing that SOPA and PIPA were untouchable, that citizens and other concerned individuals could do nothing to halt their passage into law, Rep. Lamar Smith (R) and other well-lobbied supporters of these odious bills are discovering that these pieces of legislative excrement are quickly becoming untouchable in an entirely new and unpleasant manner. SOPA and PIPA are certifiably radioactive. As I write this post, 35 Senators now publicly oppose PIPA. Last week there were only 5 dissenting Senators. What brought about this change? Internet Blackout Day certainly caught everyone’s attention; however, that’s only part of the story. The real impetus for what we are observing is the people across America who are calling their elected officials.

Guess what Congress? You’ve got our attention. Yes, we are watching you and what see disgusts us. Truth be told, we should have been watching and calling you a long, long time ago. All those voters who didn’t know who you are or how to contact you are getting informed and mobilized. Now that you’ve contemptuously slapped a hornet’s nest, get ready for the Swarm.

I’ve been calling my own legislators here in Georgia. For example, I phoned the office of Rep. John Barrow (D) yesterday. I asked to speak with someone–anyone, really–who works on copyright issues. The person answering the call told me that the person I wanted to speak with was in an important meeting. I thanked the staffer for taking my call in the midst of chaos. I explained that I wanted share my dismay that Rep. John Barrow supports legislation that I and many, many others find distressing. I also explained that I wanted list my reasons for being concerned. I noted:

  • In all likelihood, the provisions of these bills would be abused. Emboldened by vague wording in the law, sites could be incorrectly seized and censored.
  • These bills go against American principles of freedom of speech. Respected Constitutional scholars and hundreds of law professors have echoed this point.
  • The technology sector (the people who know what they are talking about when it comes to the internet) have pointed out that these bills are innovation killers.
  • These bills are not do going to do anything to solve the problems they are trying to address.

While quickly and courteously sharing my concerns, the person taking my call began to try to convince me that there was nothing in either piece of legislation that was a cause for concern. I explained that I had not called to debate the merits of the bills, only to register my concerns. I added that I had a great many other legislators to contact and that I would like to finish leaving my message for Rep. Barrow.

I don’t know if my message will be relayed. It may get lost in the collection of other calls that were coming in at the time. Even so, I’ll be calling again…frequently.

Related Resources:

Finally watch Sal from Khan Academy explain, “What SOPA and PIPA are at face value and what they could end up enabling.”