Tag Archives: web abuse

Farcical extremes

GREEN DAM: Latest Internet screening programme takes
its duties to farcical extremes – but China is adopting it

Green Dam uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

BEIJING — What do Johnny Depp, Garfield, Paris Hilton and roast pork have in common? In China, the answer is that a new government-mandated Internet filter rates some pictures of all four of them as bad for your moral health.

Beijing has ordered all personal computers sold in China since the beginning of July to be preinstalled with the Green Dam software, which it says is designed to block pornographic and violent images, and which critics fear will be used to extend censorship in the country.

But a trial of the programme, which is available online for free download at www.skycn.com/soft/46657.html, suggested its filters may be of limited use to worried parents.

When the software is installed, and an image scanner activated, it blocks even harmless images of a film poster for cartoon cat Garfield, dishes of flesh-coloured cooked pork and, on one search engine, a close-up of Johnny Depp’s face.

With the image filter off, while searches with words like “nude” are blocked, a hunt for adult websites throws up links to soft- and hardcore pornography sites, including one with a video of full penetrative sex on its front page.

Green Dam has not detailed how it scans images for obscene content, but computer experts have said it likely uses colour and form recognition to zoom in on potential expanses of naked flesh.

Programme settings allow users to choose how tightly they want images scanned. When too much skin is detected, Green Dam closes all Internet browsers with no warning, sometimes flashing up a notice that the viewer is looking at “harmful” content.

But the interpretation of obscene is apparently generous enough to include the orange hue of Garfield’s fur and, on the highest security settings, prevent viewers clicking through to any illustrated story on one English news site.

The software also allows users to choose what they want to filter for, and besides adult websites and violence, categories include “gay” and “illegal activities”.

Another setting allows Green Dam to take regular snapshots of a user’s screen and store them for up to two weeks — ostensibly so parents can monitor computer use by minors.

But it could also potentially leave security officials a track of computer use by a suspected dissident, or be a gift to fraudsters who are on the hunt for online bank details and private information.

Western governments and trade groups have asked China to reconsi­der implementing Green Dam software based on concerns ranging from cyber-security and performance of the software to Internet freedoms.

— Sapa-AP

Related post: Porn to be a teen

Web Addiction 2.0

Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m an addict. A web-addict.

Several recent surveys and related research is leading to more and more psychologists being trained to identify and treat what has become known as Internet addiction or web abuse. It has even been suggested that web abuse be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders within the American Journal of psychiatry.

SYNOPSIS:
Internet addiction has been labeled as a compulsive disorder with cybersex and cyberporn addiction being the most common forms. Like most addictions these have an impact on an individual’s social and personal life.

The disorder has been further sub-catergorised into addiction to online gaming, compulsive surfing, and eBay addiction. However, it has been noted that these only become a problem when they interfere with normal living and cause severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work performance.

Internet addiction appears to be having real effects on people, and one blogger has pointed out how websites have been ironically set up to provide information for sufferers, as well as info for attorneys and psychologists.

SYMPTOMS:
According to netaddiction.com:

Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the lives of addicts”

According to the Daily Telegraph web-addicts suffer from 4 symptoms:

  1. Forgetting to eat and sleep
  2. Needing more advanced technology or more hours online as ‘resistance’ to the pleasure given by their current system develops
  3. When deprived of their computer, genuine withdrawal symptoms are experienced; and,
  4. In common with other addictions, victims begin to have more arguments, suffer from fatigue, experience a decline in work performance, and begin to feel isolated from society – Andy Bloxham, Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2008

Related symptoms may be cravings (for better software, faster machines etc.), withdrawal (which may cause irritability, tremors and anxiety), a loss of sense of time, and negative social repercussions (such as neglecting real-life relationships). Some patients even report suffering nervous breakdowns when they can’t go online.

STATISTICS:
Although research into Internet addiction is sketchy (and usually concerns a group of white Americans) a few countries have conducted in-depth surveys. Below is a summary of the more recent findings:

  • British psychiatrists have reported that between 5% and 10% of online users are internet addicts
  • In China the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital puts the number of teenage pathological computer users at 10 million
  • Research from South Korea suggests the affliction is a serious public health problem, and estimates that 168,000 children may require psychotropic medications
  • National (North American) surveys revealed that over 50% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions (mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex)
  • Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases
  • Trends also showed that Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders (it has been suggested that web addicts often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations in reality)
  • Gender stereotypes also seem to translate online: men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, for example, while women are more likely to become addicted to chatting, instant messaging, eBay, and online shopping

RESEARCH PROBLEMS:
It has been noted that around 70-80% of the subjects referred to in such research is comprised mostly of white Americans, however, the idea of Internet addiction does seem to be spreading around the globe like a 21st century plague.

Yet there is much dispute over whether or not such a condition is in fact unique. One psychiatrist has suggested that the Internet is merely another form of escapism for those with other problems:

What most people online who think they are addicted are probably suffering from is the desire to not want to deal with other problems in their lives. Those problems may be a mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), a serious health problem or disability, or a relationship problem. It is no different than turning on the TV so you won’t have to talk to your spouse, or going “out with the boys” for a few drinks so you don’t have to spend time at home. Nothing is different except the modality – John M. Grohol

TREATMENT:
Despite this, several doctors around the world are recommending various treatment options for those who believe they are web addicts. Dr Kimberley Young, who maintains www.netaddiction.com suggests that like an eating disorder, the key to beating Internet addiction is to develop a healthy pattern of consumption.

Treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns” – Dr Kimberley Young

Dr Grohol, on the other hand, believes that Internet addition is simply a behavioral problem. He suggests that “it’s the behavior, and behaviors are easily treatable by traditional cognitive-behavior techniques in psychotherapy”.

I leave you with a snippet from Wired Magazine, which took a similar skeptical stance towards the idea that the Internet is dangerously addictive:

…it’s so much easier to date an avatar. Sound familiar? Your friend the World Wide Web may be a monkey on your back. Or not. Just ask yourself this: If Google were a drug, would I smoke it?

Links:
Wired Magazine: Internet Addiction articles
News article: Internet addiction is a ‘clinical disorder’

The reality of the virtual

Just when one thought it was possible to escape the confines of real life by emerging oneself into a virtual world, Second Life as a popular example, is becoming rife with destructive practices from child abuse to prostitution, and is now becoming a site for religious convergence.

Catholic missionaries have trekked the Earth to spread the word of God since the colonial era, and are now finding ways to Christianise the virtual world. An article set to appear in the August addition of the Vatican approved journal – Civilta Cattolica, is aimed to encourage Catholic missionaries to immerse themselves into the virtual world of online computer games in an attempt to convert cyber souls.

If you are not yet familiar with Second Life it is basically a vast computer-generated online world in which players can create virtual versions of themselves (known as Avatars) and can buy or sell virtual…stuff and interact with other users in several ways. The game is huge, ‘housing’ roughly 8 million ‘residents’ at present.

A Vatican priest named Father Spadaro, has been quoted in several online publications saying that “sin has flourished in the various towns which make up Second Life”. According to the same publications, acts of gambling and prostitution have become rife within the game. To give a fact closer to reality, $1.5 million (R105 million) is exchanged in the online world each day, according to Linden Labs – the creators of Second Life.

Spadaro has also said, however, that “while the virtual world might be a refuge for some people seeking to flee the real one, it is also full of people seeking something more from life, including, possibly, religious enlightenment”.

Angle AvatarThus there appears to positive light on either side of the ‘Christianising of the virtual world’ argument. However, the penalties for such virtual sin is becoming very real in some countries where virtual misdemeanours constitute real crimes. Germany as an example has already called authorities to investigate cases of paedophilia and virtual child abuse in the online world. In other countries virtual gambling has been completely banned.

The erotic dimension of Second Life may be a little extreme, offering players the opportunity to buy unique genitalia for their avatars, but just how dangerous is a virtual act of prostitution or paedophilia? It might not say much for the mindsets of the ‘sinful’ players, but what real damage do such acts constitute?

Second Life has already been penetrated by commercial conglomerates such as Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, BMW, Mercedes and Vodafone, which are seizing the commercial prospects the game offers. But is there really still room, or a necessity, for religious penetration too? If the virtual world is as close to reality as it appears, then what’s there to prevent the formation of religious cults? Or the outbreak of religious wars from occurring within the game as they do in real life? To me it seems that the real danger is a blurring of reality with virtuality.

Related post:
Experience the Internet in 3D

Links
The New Game Plan: Virtual Reality
10 ways online gaming will change the future
Jesuits say take word of God to Second Life – REUTERS