Bennett Haselton writes: T-Mobile has been accused of violating Net Neutrality by providing "Binge On" plans that come with unlimited data, but only from select streaming websites such as Hulu and Netflix streamed at low-quality speeds (while excluding Youtube and Google Play). Why not just duck the whole net neutrality debate by providing Binge On as a medium-bandwidth pipe, which has a limited data streaming speed, but can stream at that speed from any website? Read on for more on this question, and T-Mobile's stilted rationale for its provider-specific system.
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Bennett Haselton writes: The comedy world crucified Josh "Fat Jew" Ostrovsky for building his career on re-tweeting other people's jokes without attribution. But Twitter, or whichever company rises as their successor, could easily implement an algorithm that could stop plagiarists from building a following, while still rewarding joke writers who come up with original content. Read on for Bennett's take on how such a system could work.
Bennett Haselton writes: United Airlines announced that they will offer up to 1 million air miles to users who can find security holes in their website. I demonstrated a way to brute-force a user's 4-digit PIN number and submitted it to them for review, emailing their Bugs Bounty contact address on three occasions, but I never heard back from them. Read on for the rest. If you've had a different experience with the program, please chime in below.
Bennett Haselton writes: Vimeo and Youtube are pressured to remove a dark, fan-made "Power Rangers" short film; Vimeo capitulated, while Youtube has so far left it up. I'm generally against the overreach of copyright law, but in this case, how could anyone argue the short film doesn't violate the rights of the franchise creator? And should Vimeo and Youtube clarify their policies on the unauthorized use of copyrighted characters? Read on for the rest.
Bennett Haselton writes: They would never admit it, but your high school admins would probably breathe a sigh of relief if all of their sexting-mad students would go ahead and install Snapchat so that evidence of (sometimes) illegal sexting would disappear into the ether. They can't recommend that you do this, because it would sound like an implicit endorsement, just like they can't recommend designated drivers for teen drinking parties -- but it's a good bet they would be grateful. Read on for the rest.
"The United States Postal Service "Click-N-Ship" site suffered no outages or slowdowns during Christmas rush," writes Bennett Haselton. "It just has bugs that make the process more annoying than just standing in line at the post office, which defeats the purpose. The most frustrating part is that most of these bugs could have been fixed, just by having some testers run through the ordering process and make a note of anything that seems confusing or wrong. (Although I've included notes on how to work around all the bugs, so you really can print your own labels and skip the line.)" Read on for the rest; what other gripes do you have about the current package delivery regime, and how would you resolve them?
Bennett Haselton writes Sidecar is a little-known alternative to Lyft and Uber, deployed in only ten cities so far, which lets drivers set their own prices to undercut other ride-sharing services. Given that most amateur drivers would be willing to give someone a ride for far less than the rider would be willing to pay, why didn't the flex-pricing option take off? Keep reading to see what Bennet has to say.
With the holidays coming up, Bennett Haselton has updated his geek-oriented gift guide for 2014. He says: Some of my favorite gifts to give are still the ones that were listed in several different previously written posts, while a few new cool gift ideas emerged in 2014. Here are all my current best recommendations, listed in one place. Read on for the list, or to share any suggestions of your own.
Bennett Haselton writes The corruption of the #Ferguson and #Gamergate hashtags demonstrates how vulnerable the hashtag system is to being swamped by an "angry mob". An alternative algorithm could be created that would allow users to post tweets and browse the ones that had been rated "thoughtful" by other users participating in the same discussion. This would still allow anyone to contribute, even average users lacking a large follower base, while keeping the most stupid and offensive tweets out of most people's feeds. Keep reading to see what Bennett has to say.
Bennett Haselton writes: Twitter has announced new protocols for filing and handling abuse reports, making it easier to flag specific types of content (e.g. violence or suicide threats). But with the volume of abusive tweets being reported to the company every day, the internal review process will always be a bottleneck. The company could handle more abuse reports properly by recruiting public volunteers. Read what Bennett thinks below.
Bennett Haselton writes A judge rules that a county has to turn over the IP addresses that were used to access a county mayor's Dropbox account, stating that there is no valid security-related reason why the IP addresses should be exempt from a public records request. I think the judge's conclusion about IP addresses was right, but the reasoning was flawed; here is a technically more correct argument that would have led to the same answer. Keep Reading to see what Bennett has to say about the case.
Bennett Haselton writes: My last article garnered some objections from readers saying that the sample sizes were too small to draw meaningful conclusions. (36 out of 47 survey-takers, or 77%, said that a picture of a black woman breast-feeding was inappropriate; while in a different group, 38 out of 54 survey-takers, or 70%, said that a picture of a white woman breast-feeding was inappropriate in the same context.) My conclusion was that, even on the basis of a relatively small sample, the evidence was strongly against a "huge" gap in the rates at which the surveyed population would consider the two pictures to be inappropriate. I stand by that, but it's worth presenting the math to support that conclusion, because I think the surveys are valuable tools when you understand what you can and cannot demonstrate with a small sample. (Basically, a small sample can present only weak evidence as to what the population average is, but you can confidently demonstrate what it is not.) Keep reading to see what Bennett has to say.
Bennett Haselton writes: A editorial with 24,000 Facebook shares highlights the differences in public reaction to two nearly identical breastfeeding photos, one showing a black woman and one showing a white woman, each breastfeeding an infant. The editorial decries the outrage provoked by the black woman's photo compared to the mild reaction elicited by the white woman's photo, and attributes the difference to racism. I tried an experiment using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to test that theory. Read on to see the kind of results Bennett found.
Bennett Haselton writes: Social networking company Ello has converted itself to a Public Benefit Corporation, bound by a charter saying that they will not now, nor in the future, make money by running advertisements or selling user data. Ello had followed these policies from the outset, but skeptics worried that venture capitalist investors might pressure Ello to change those policies, so this binding commitment was meant to assuage those fears. But is the commitment really legally binding and enforceable down the road? Read on for the rest.
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes: Facebook threatened to banish drag queen pseudonyms, and (some) users revolted by flocking to Ello, a social network which promised not to enforce real names and also to remain ad-free. Critics said that the idealistic model would buckle under pressure from venture capitalists. But both gave scant mention to the fact that a distributed social networking protocol, backed by a player large enough to get people using it, would achieve all of the goals that Ello aspired to achieve, and more. Read on for the rest.
Any gathering of 65,000 people in the desert is going to require some major infrastructure to maintain health and sanity. At Burning Man, some of that infrastructure is devoted to a supply chain for ice. Writes Bennett Haselton, The lines for ice bags at Burning Man could be cut from an hour long at peak times, to about five minutes, by making one small... Well, read the description below of how they do things now, and see if the same suggested change occurs to you. I'm curious whether it's the kind of idea that is more obvious to students of computer science who think algorithmically, or if it's something that could occur to anyone. Read on for the rest; Bennett's idea for better triage may bring to mind a lot of other queuing situations and ways that time spent waiting in line could be more efficiently employed.
Bennett Haselton writes As commenters continue to blame Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities for allowing their nude photos to be stolen, there is only one rebuttal to the victim-blaming which actually makes sense: that for the celebrities taking their nude selfies, the probable benefits of their actions outweighed the probable negatives. Most of the other rebuttals being offered, are logically incoherent, and, as such, are not likely to change the minds of the victim-blamers. Read below to see what Bennett has to say.
Contributor Bennett Haselton writes with a interesting take on the recent release of racy celebrity photos: "Lawyers for Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney succeeded in getting porn sites to take down her stolen nude photos, on the grounds that she was under 18 in the pictures, which meant they constituted child pornography. If true, that means that under current laws, Maroney could in theory be prosecuted for taking the original pictures. Maybe the laws should be changed?" Read on for the rest.
Bennett Haselton writes: I would be in favor of a regulation requiring cell phone stores to have replacement phones on hand, for any phone model covered by a customer's insurance policy. Then customers who have insurance protection on their phones could get the damaged phones replaced instantly, and the replacement phones that are normally mailed out by overnight mail to customers under their protection plan, could instead be mailed to the stores to replace the one they just gave out to the customer. Read on for the rest of Bennett's thoughts
Bennett Haselton writes After footage of James Foley's beheading by ISIS terrorists was posted online on Tuesday, Twitter and Youtube elected to remove any footage or links to the footage posted by users. Obviously this reduces the incentive for terrorist groups to post such content, by shrinking their audience, but it also reduces the public's access to information. Would it be ethical to make the content available, if it was preceded by an advertisement for a cause that runs counter to everything ISIS stands for? Read below to see what Bennett has to say.