culture ethics

Ok Cupid Is Not Facebook

In a blog post published yesterday, OkCupid revealed it’s been lying to some of its users just to see how manipulating their experience could make the site better at matchmaking.

The public’s reaction to OK Cupid’s admission of the kind of A/B testing that Facebook caught hell for has been much more muted. It turns out, treating your users like guinea pigs is ok as long as people already like your website (nobody really likes Facebook — they’re just trapped by the network effect).

So what exactly did they do? From the blog post:

The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work? By all our internal measures, the “match percentage” we calculate for users is very good at predicting relationships. It correlates with message success, conversation length, whether people actually exchange contact information, and so on. But in the back of our minds, there’s always been the possibility: maybe it works just because we tell people it does. Maybe people just like each other because they think they’re supposed to? Like how Jay-Z still sells albums?

To test this, we took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.)† Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible. After all, that’s what the site teaches you to do.

† Once the experiment was concluded, the users were notified of the correct match percentage.

ethics friends Politics

Lethbridge Woman’s Space Funding Cuts

For the first time in 25 years, The Lethbridge Women’s Space was denied funding by the federal department for the Status of Women.

The CBC has the story.

We were status of woman funded for the last 25 years and we were very shocked when our application was denied because we have a very good relationship with Status of Women. We were [continuing] a previous project where we had served so many women with financial literacy services and we were shocked that it was denied because financial literacy has been identified as such a priority by this particular government.

A friend of mine, Shannon Phillips was interviewed on CBC regarding the loss of funding.

If you’d like to learn more about Womanspace, visit the Womanspace website. If you’d like to help, their site also links to those you could contact.

environment ethics

Navigable Waters Protection Act

I received an email this morning outlining the Canadian Governments efforts to overturn the protection of free flowing rivers in Canada. As it stands now, the law in Canada protects the public right of navigation in Canadian waters and has done so since 1882—the right to navigate waterways in Canada is a tradition that pre-dates the beginning of our country.

In particular, Merv Tweeds of Brandon-Souris has headed up the cause for selling out on Canada’s natural resources. From his website:

Tweed leads the way to change waterway act

BRANDON — March 13, 2008 – Merv Tweed, Member of Parliament for Brandon-Souris, is leading the review to make critical and long-overdue changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

“This act controls every waterway in Canada, no matter how small, and has caused significant delay in the approval of new infrastructure,” said Tweed.

The Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities Committee, which Tweed chairs, will review the act and will be tabling a report on the findings and recommendations for change in June.

“I believe that refocusing the act will provide a more timely and predictable process for the review and approval of critical infrastructure projects,” said Tweed.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act was written in 1882 to protect the public right of navigation in Canadian waters. Unfortunately, this act does not allow for the ability to exclude anything “constructed or placed on, under, over, through or across” a navigable water, as everything may interfere with navigation to some degree.

Industry and provincial, territorial and municipal governments have, for years, been requesting changes to the NWPA to reflect current needs and respond to the increased volume and variety of uses of Canada’s waterways.

The existing backlog of approvals is impeding economic growth and the timely development and refurbishment of critical transportation infrastructure that, in turn, has the potential of creating a backlog for the implementation of projects under “Building Canada Plan”.

My favourite paragraph deserves some dissection: “Unfortunately, this act does not allow for the ability to exclude anything ‘constructed or placed on, under, over, through or across’ a navigable water, as everything may interfere with navigation to some degree.” So what he’s trying to say is, it’s unfortunate that the law protects the public right of navigation because we want to imped that right.

ethics Photography

UK Photography: Is it a crime?

photography is not a crime

A security officer in Middlesbrough did not seem to realise it is legal to take pictures of people when on public land.

Flickr user i didn’t mean to go to Stoke posted his photo and story about this security guard in the process of detaining him and a friend for taking photos in the outdoor, pedestrianized area of Middlesbrough, UK.

I don’t know how traumatized the guy was after being detained but I hope some good comes out of it as people learn that there is nothing illegal or unethical about street photography.

His friend captured some video coverage of the incident.

Moments later as i walked away this goon jumped in front of me and demanded to know what i was doing. i explained that i was taking photos and it was my legal right to do so, he tried to stop me by shoulder charging me, my friend started taking photos of this, he then tried to detain us both. I refused to stand still so he grabbed my jacket and said i was breaking the law. Quickly a woman and a guy wearing BARGAIN MADNESS shirts joined in the melee and forcibly grabbed my friend and held him against his will. We were both informed that street photography was illegal in the town.

copyright ethics life

Larry Lessig on TED

This summer, while working at a camera/photography store in Lethbridge, one of the jobs I did was Photoshop work and printing photos.

One day a middle-aged woman came into the store carrying an old photo of her deceased parents. She explained that the photo had been damaged when it fell off the wall and the glass protecting it, broke and cut into the image. She asked if we would be able to photoshop the damage out and make a new copy.

Before I could speak, the manager of the store pulled the image from my hand and inspected the photograph.

“Who took the photo?”

There was no stamp on the back and she didn’t know. She explained, “It was taken about 30 years ago by a photographer that their pastor hired to take family photos at their church”.

He told her due to copyright laws, he would not print her a new image. (Nevermind the illegally copied Photoshop program he was using to charge $45/hour to make others copies).

Should it be illegal to recover the woman’s photo? Common sense revolts at the idea.

But she never did get it fixed.

Update: I’ve since learned the manager has been “let go”.

See this great TED talk by Larry Lessig speaking about the shortcomings of our dusty, pre-digital intellectual property laws.

biology documentary ethics

Richard Dawkins’ Nice Guys Finish First

When I was enrolled in University, one of the classes I wanted to take was Philosophy of Game Theory. Unfortunately, disillusioned by my lack of interest after taking the introductory class (a prerequisite) I decided that Philosophy wasn’t for me after all.

Game Theory (Wikipedia) however, is still a very fascinating topic. Couple that with an interest in biology, sociology, and economics and the short documentary, “Nice Guys Finish First“, by Richard Dawkins becomes a tremendously interesting look at how selfish and altruistic behavior can be the greatest benefit or harm to the individual—and consequently also to the group.

Hit Play or Watch at Google Video.


Niall Kennedy Goatse’s Microsoft Blog

When Niall Kennedy found out a creative commons licensed photograph he had taken was being misused by Microsoft, he did what any net savvy blogger would do: he replaced the image with goatse. (Ok, personally I wouldn’t have gone that far, but it definitely got their attention).

From his site:

I license my text and image creations under Creative Commons licenses in the hope they will help other people tell a better story or unleash some sort of increased creativity upon the world of content I enjoy every day. When that content is used beyond the terms of my published license I choose to take various forms of action ranging from e-mailing or sending an instant message to the person (if I have it or can query accurate information without much effort) or by issuing legal documents of copyright violations to the offensing site or host.

Read the whole story: Handling of Microsoft’s copyleft violation.

ethics games

Columbine Massacre Video Game

Super Columbine Massacre RPG screenshot

I just finished reading an interesting piece on about the Super Columbine Massacre RPG, a video game in which you take the role of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, on that fateful day in the Denver suburb of Littleton. How many people they kill is ultimately up to the player.

Judging from some of the harsh comments and some of the news articles written about the game from journalists that never even bothered to play the game it seems to me that a lot of people can’t comprehend the possibility that a video game could be a potential medium for provoking thought or education. Not that playing the game is a particularly enjoyable endeavour, but as compared with the documentary, the movie, or the multiple number of books written on the subject, why is it assumed that “the game” would automatically be something that condones their behavior whereas these other mediums get a pass?

One commenter had the nerve to go so far as to say,

“If your purpose in this game is to ‘understand’, my question is why do we need to understand? Understanding evil is not important—knowledge is not power. Evil is present and does great harm in our world. A better choice is to empower through ministry that heals. It’s my thought that your game doesn’t minister or provoke healing discussion—rather, it fuels the negative impact, divides people from Truth rather than lead them toward it.”

To me, a comment like this is so out-of-touch that it’s shocking. I can understand that at first appearance the idea of making that fateful day’s events into a game may seem trivilizing, but after having taken a few minutes to try it myself, I can say it allows for an interesting perspective that isn’t exactly possible in other forms.

If you’re not convinced, then I recommend checking out the fascinating interview about the game with a Columbine survivor and another one with the game’s creator which, after reading, may cause you to adjust your preconceived notions about the game.

advertising article ethics

Wired Magazine on Click Fraud

Wired has an intriguing article on the state of online advertising and the use of click spam to defraud advertisers.

Pay-per-click is the fastest-growing segment of all advertising, reports the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Last year, Yahoo! alone ran more than 250 million individual listings, according to Michael Egan, the company’s search-marketing director of content strategy. Yahoo! doesn’t break out PPC earnings separately in its financial statements, but Goldman Sachs analyst Anthony Noto believes that keyword advertising accounted for about half of the company’s estimated $3.7 billion in revenue for 2005. PPC is even more lucrative for Google. According to Noto, Google will end 2005 with $6.1 billion in revenue. About 99 percent of that revenue comes from keyword ads (over 56 percent from AdWords, according to the company’s most recent quarterly financial statement, and 43 percent from AdSense), making Google a bigger recipient of ad dollars than any television network or newspaper chain. All of which is to say that little blue text links, a type of advertising that barely existed five years ago, are poised to become the single most important form of marketing in the US — unless click fraud ruins it.

How Click Fraud Could Swallow the Internet

ethics movie


Last night I watched “Million Dollar Baby”. In case you haven’t seen the show, let me just give you a spoiler alert! The theme of this post pretty much gives away the ending.

It was a gripping show and it left me feeling sad but I’m glad I saw it.

After watching the movie, I started to think about my own opinion on euthanasia. I wish I knew more about the laws in Canada so I would know what is the exact nature of the law here, but as far as I know euthanasia is pretty much completely illegal.

I read an article about a month ago in Macleans Magazine that illuminated the fact that in the Netherlands and Belgium euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal. (I was reading it while getting my oil changed and there was more than one article that I never had a chance to finish.)

When my grandmother became sick and was no longer able to remember us, it was a hard fact to face that her life had lost its purpose. She no longer appeared to find joy in anything, but just existed. When she finally came to the end of her life, my family decided not to go to “extreme measures” to save her. I never felt good about it, but there comes a time when continued attempts to postpone death are not compassionate. My family’s decision was to neither end her life early nor extend it beyond reason. Instead we waited for my grandmother’s “natural” death. Her suffering was probably terrible but less in a physical sense than a mental one.

But what about situations where death’s release does not come for someone’s extreme physical suffering? What if, hypothetically speaking, you were put in a situation where a loved one was not only terminally ill but also in tremendous pain?

Or, hypothetically if you were not directly involved, what would you do if someone told you how a member of their immediate family had been suffering from an extreme case of cancer and that in order to stop the suffering, they took matters into their own hands and secretly ended that person’s life?

I agree in principle that Canadian law should be changed to allow assisted suicides and euthanasia under very strict guidelines. It should be doctors or the actual patients themselves fulfilling this task and only when a combination of long-term pain with no hope of recovery are in sight. It’s a slippery slope – I agree, but nevertheless there are situations that call for it. Our current laws sometimes leave people feeling forced into the extreme measures of my hypothetical situations above.

Would you take matters into your own hands? Or in the second situation would you report the person to the authorities? Would you feel guilty about knowing what they did was technically a crime but just think to yourself that the means justify the ends? Would you worry that by not reporting this incident you are (in a way) becoming an accomplice to what the law equates with pre-meditated murder? What if the person ending the other person’s life were a family member, would it make you change your decision?

Million Dollar Baby’s plot is setup in such a way that once Maggie is paralysed, as a human being she may have a range of options, but as a character in the Rocky-style movie portrayed up to this point, she can only wind up two ways. Either there will be a miraculous recovery, or she must die. No other resolution will satisfy the dramatic tension created by her paralysis. In real life there are a myriad of possible solutions including the right to refuse medical care. But in cases where living goes on dispite pain, suffering, and no medical options, and no hope for recovery, what is the best thing to do?