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From: Ron4/10/2023 3:22:19 PM
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FBI Warns Against Using Public Phone Charger Stations 'juice jacking'
cnbc.com

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From: Glenn Petersen4/24/2023 11:16:07 AM
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U.S. Supreme Court to decide if public officials can block critics on social media
By John Kruzel
Reuters
April 24, 2023

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court, exploring free speech rights in the social media era, on Monday agreed to consider whether the Constitution's First Amendment bars government officials from blocking their critics on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The justices took up an appeal by two members of a public school board from the city of Poway in Southern California of a lower court's ruling in favor of school parents who sued after being blocked from Facebook pages and a Twitter account maintained by the officials.

The justices also took up an appeal by a Michigan man of a lower court's ruling against him after he sued a city official in Port Huron who blocked him on Facebook following critical posts made by the plaintiff about the local government's COVID-19 response.

At issue is whether a public official's social media activity can amount to governmental action bound by First Amendment limits on government regulation of speech.

The justices faced a similar First Amendment issue in 2021 involving a legal dispute over former President Donald Trump's effort to block critics from his Twitter account. The justices brought an end to that court fight after Trump had left office by deciding the case was moot, throwing out a lower court's decision that found that the former president had violated constitutional free speech rights.

The California case involves Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, elected members of the Poway Unified School District. They blocked Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, the parents of three students at district schools, on Facebook and Twitter after the couple made hundreds of critical posts on issues such as race and the handling of school finances.

The Garniers sued O'Connor-Ratcliff and Zane in federal court, claiming their free speech rights under the First Amendment were violated.

Zane and O'Connor-Ratcliff each had public Facebook pages identifying them as government officials, according to the Garniers' court filing. Zane's page was entitled "T.J. Zane, Poway Unified School District Trustee" and included a picture of a school district signage.

O'Connor-Ratcliff also had a public Twitter profile. On that account and her Facebook page, she identified herself as "President of the PUSD Board of Education" and linked to her official email address, the court filing said.

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of the parents in 2021. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that the school board members had presented their social media accounts as "channels of communication with the public" about school board business.

The Michigan case involves Port Huron resident Kevin Lindke, who was blocked from City Manager James Freed's public Facebook page after posting criticism relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lindke sued Freed in federal court, also claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.

Freed's account was a public Facebook page that identified him as a "public figure," included a picture of him wearing his city manager pin and frequently included information about city programs and policies, according to Lindke's court filing.

A federal judge ruled in favor of Freed in 2021. The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last July agreed, finding that Freed had not been acting in his official capacity when he blocked Lindke from Facebook.

The petitioners in both disputes told the Supreme Court that the divergent outcomes in their cases reflected a divide among lower courts that the justices should resolve.

Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham

U.S. Supreme Court to decide if public officials can block critics on social media | Reuters

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From: Ron5/5/2023 8:16:04 AM
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$500 million a year from Google may not be enough to save Firefox
archive.ph

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From: Glenn Petersen5/18/2023 5:27:08 AM
1 Recommendation   of 6761
 
Montana Governor Signs Total Ban of TikTok in the State

The legislation is the most extreme prohibition of the app in the nation and will almost certainly face legal challenges.

By Sapna Maheshwari
New York Times
Published May 17, 2023
Updated May 18, 2023, 12:54 a.m. ET

The governor of Montana, Greg Gianforte, signed a bill on Wednesday to ban TikTok from operating inside the state, the most extreme prohibition of the app in the nation and one that will almost certainly be challenged in court. The ban will take effect on Jan. 1.

“Today, Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Gianforte, a Republican, said in a news release.
To protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party, I have banned TikTok in Montana. — Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) May 17, 2023
The Montana Legislature introduced the bill in February, leading to months of debate. The proposal, which would affect everyday users of the popular short-form video app, significantly escalated a national rush to ban TikTok on government devices based on concerns about the company’s ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance. The battle over the bill offered a glimpse of what the United States might encounter nationally if lawmakers or the White House attempt a nationwide ban of TikTok, which has been floated in recent months.

TikTok, which says it has 7,000 employees in the United States, has been fighting back in the state for months. It has run ads featuring Montana small businesses that use TikTok and given prewritten emails to users so they could contact Mr. Gianforte about opposing the bill.

The legislation prohibits mobile app stores, like those run by Apple and Google, from offering TikTok within the state. A trade group funded by Apple and Google has said in recent months that it is impossible for the companies to prevent access to TikTok in a single state.

“Governor Gianforte has signed a bill that infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok, a platform that empowers hundreds of thousands of people across the state,” Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in a statement on Wednesday. Montanans, she added, can keep using the app “as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

Under the legislation, TikTok could face fines if it continues operating in the state, as could Apple and Google if they allow people to download the app.

Apple and Google didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The battle in Montana erupted during a period of intense national scrutiny on TikTok, which boasts more than 150 million U.S. users. Lawmakers and intelligence officials have said TikTok, because of its ownership, could put sensitive user data into the hands of the Chinese government, pointing to laws that allow Beijing to secretly demand data from Chinese companies and citizens for intelligence gathering.

They have also expressed concern that the app, which is especially popular with teenagers and people in their 20s, could be used to spread propaganda. Congress grilled Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, for roughly five hours at a March hearing that focused largely on the app’s Chinese ownership.

TikTok says it has never been asked to provide, nor has it provided, any U.S. user data to the Chinese government. The company has proposed a detailed plan for operating in the United States that it says should allay national security concerns and fears of misinformation, but the plan has not yet been approved by the Biden administration, leaving TikTok and its future in limbo.

Free speech groups were quick to respond to the Montana ban. The American Civil Liberties Union said on Wednesday that the legislation “flouts the First Amendment.”

“The government cannot impose a total ban on a communications platform like TikTok unless it is necessary to prevent extremely serious, immediate harm to national security,” the group said in a statement. “But there’s no public evidence of harm that would meet the high bar set by the U.S. and Montana Constitutions, and a total ban would not be the only option for addressing such harm if it did exist.”

The Montana bill says the ban will be void if TikTok is acquired by, or sold to, a company that is not incorporated in a country “designated as a foreign adversary.”

David McCabe contributed reporting.

Sapna Maheshwari is a business reporter covering TikTok and emerging media companies. Previously she reported on retail and advertising.

Montana Governor Bans TikTok in the State - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

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From: Ron5/23/2023 11:11:36 AM
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Tracking of Citizens and Censorship in Russia's Cyber Gulag

apnews.com

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From: Ron5/24/2023 4:22:04 PM
1 Recommendation   of 6761
 
Microsoft said its engineers uncovered efforts by a Chinese hacker group to target critical US
Infrastructure organizations
marketwatch.com

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From: Glenn Petersen5/29/2023 3:53:19 AM
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From: Glenn Petersen6/13/2023 6:20:54 AM
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Who needs the Metaverse? Meet the people still living on Second Life

Mark Zuckerberg’s grand vision for an online existence has been laughed off as a corporate folly. Meanwhile, those still existing happily on a virtual world launched 20 years ago may be wondering what all the fuss is about …

Simon Parkin
The Guardian
Sat 10 Jun 2023 08.00 EDT



Virtual worlds: Second Life and Metaverse. Illustration: Nicolás Ortega/The Guardian
---------------------

On 14 November 2006, 5,000 IBM employees assembled in a digital recreation of the 15th-century Chinese imperial palace known as the Forbidden City. They had come to hear IBM’s CEO, Sam Palmisano, deliver a speech. Palmisano’s physical body was in Beijing at the time, but he addressed most of his audience inside Second Life, the online social world that had launched three years earlier. Palmisano’s trim avatar wore tortoiseshell-frame glasses and a tailored pinstripe suit. He faced a crowd of digital, animated dolls dressed in the business attire of the day: black heels, pencil-line shirts, Windsor-knotted ties. Looming out of the throng at the back stood a 10ft IBM employee, his digital face plastered in Gene Simmons-style white makeup, with shoulder-length, Sonic-blue hair.

It was a historic moment, a journalist for Bloomberg reported at the time: Palmisano was “the first big-league CEO” to stage a company-wide meeting in Second Life – “the most popular of a handful of new-fangled 3D online virtual worlds”. IBM, just like any other denizen of Second Life, paid ground rent to own a “region” of the game, one region representing 6.5 hectares of digital turf, currently rented at $166 (£134) a month. Renters could build whatever they wanted on their turf.

The pitch proved attractive. While in cities like New York or London you might never own a flat, in Second Life you could design, build and inhabit a mansion. Institutions followed. Some used their space to stage art exhibitions and theatrical performances; others built kink palaces. The retail outlet American Apparel opened a virtual store on a private island called Lerappa – “Apparel” spelt backwards – selling costumes for avatars. The US universities MIT and Stanford established faculties in Second Life. Someone claiming to represent the far-right French National Front joined in (their HQ was the site of virtual clashes with anti-racism demonstrators in 2007). The world used its own currency – the Linden dollar, withdrawable into local currencies – to establish a global, user-to-user economy. Transactions and withdrawals were subject to a tiny fee, which contributed to the cost of server maintenance – a revolutionary, influential business model.

While Second Life’s world was viewed by many as rudimentary and its inhabitants eccentric, in hindsight it represented a bold, pioneering experiment, launched while Facebook was still a website for rating the attractiveness of Harvard students. It remains both the first and the most successful manifestation of a so-called metaverse, a compelling if somewhat imprecise term coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. Definitions vary, but most experts agree the metaverse is, put simply, the internet made metropolis: an immersive, contiguous representation of data and the active user communities within. One might walk from, say, eBay marketplace to YouTube cineplex; or take a virtual Uber from the great library of Wikipedia to the twin towers of TikTok and Instagram. No need for a thousand logins and passwords: in this Internet World theme park, each of us could embody a single body and consistent identity.



An avatar of Mark Zuckerberg at a virtual Meta Connect event in 2022. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images
--------------------------------

Second Life did not replace the internet in this way. And even at the height of its popularity in the late 2000s, it attracted only around a million monthly users – a fraction of the number enjoyed by some online video games (the makers of Fortnite claim a consistent 80 million) and far fewer than would be necessary to sustain a business such as, say, Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook. But the dream of a coordinated manifestation of websites and users, built on current technologies (VR headsets, blockchains, cryptocurrencies and all) and opening unprecedented opportunities to virtual landowners, marketers and advertisers, has persisted at the highest levels of corporate Silicon Valley, up to and including Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.1

Zuckerberg first outlined his vision for the Metaverse, the “successor to the mobile internet”, in 2021. According to Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, the project would take a decade to revolutionise the way we browse the web. But less than two years and $36bn later, the project has stalled, with little to show for it. User numbers for Horizon Worlds – Meta’s first draft of an interconnected world entered via a VR headset – have steadily declined during the past year. According to internal documents, most visitors do not return after the first month and a feature to reward users who have created content within Horizon Worlds generated just $470 globally in revenue in its first year. Zuckerberg recently announced 21,000 redundancies and hinted that all Meta employees may soon be required to return to physical offices, a rather self-sabotaging policy at a company committed to erasing the distinction between the physical and digital. As it sheds employees and investor focus impatiently shifts to the get-richer-quicker possibilities of generative AI, the vision fades. Almost every national newspaper has run a variation on the article: “ Whatever happened to the metaverse?

The message seems to be that, as the real world becomes ever bleaker, a new digital world offers a place to reconnect

Yet Second Life – and its more modest vision of an Internet World – persists. This month it celebrates its 20th anniversary; a mobile version is set for release this year and its developer, Linden Lab, estimates the virtual world’s GDP to be $650m. According to the company, around 185m items are sold each year in the Second Life marketplace, with an average cost of $2 each, and 1.6m transactions – also including tipping, services, currency trades – occur every day. During the pandemic, new registrations soared, with close to a million visitors logging in each month and some building viable businesses trading in virtual goods and services. This is nothing close to the world-conquering figures Zuckerberg would need to justify his sunk costs, but Second Life has nonetheless endured as a profitable and, crucially, populated metaverse.

And while the world’s largest tech companies continue to seek ways to more intrusively monitor and monetise our online lives, the metaverse idea is unlikely ever to disappear.

Second Life’s creator, Philip Rosedale, claims his vision of an accessible digital utopia long predates Stephenson’s invention of the word “metaverse”. As a child, Rosedale – who, having left Linden Lab in 2010, returned in January 2022 as a strategic adviser – built go-karts and gadgets. He installed a parabolic antenna on the roof of his parents’ house which he could angle to eavesdrop on friends’ conversations down the street.

Rosedale – who, at 54, still has the appearance of a boy-genius inventor, with colourful glasses and a cartoonish floppy shock of grey hair – was also a dreamer. “I had dreams in which I imagined myself building in space, wearing a spacesuit, using tools I had on my belt to make walls appear and move surfaces around,” he recalls, speaking over Zoom from Linden Lab’s office in San Francisco. “I could build great architectural structures in space. But the idea in my mind was always that was something you could do inside the computer.”



‘I figured everybody would want one’: an avatar of Second Life creator Philip Rosedale …


… and the real thing at SXSW 2022. Photographs: Getty Images for SXSW; Second Life/Linden Lab
---------------------------

Rosedale read both science and science fiction: Stephen Wolfram’s work on cellular automata in Scientific American, Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End, William Gibson’s Neuromancer. “I became fascinated by this idea of creating a world that had some simple, low-level rules, but that would become alive from these elemental basics, you know, like a real world does.” When, in 1992, his wife bought him a copy of Snow Crash, she told him: “You’re going to love this: a science fiction book about that thing you’re always working on.”

Two years later Rosedale moved to San Francisco. “The first thing I wanted to do, of course, was use the internet to create a giant pool of server machines to simulate an immense world,” he says. “But even I was not crazy enough to try to do that in the early 90s, when the internet was still incredibly slow and computers were unable to properly render worlds in 3D.” By the time Rosedale founded Linden Lab at the turn of the century, he felt the technology was nearly ready.

Persistent online video game worlds were becoming commonplace ( World of Warcraft, the most famous, launched a year after Second Life). While he wanted visitors to stake plots of virtual land and build virtual homes, Rosedale was determined Second Life would not become a video game filled with quests and errands. He wanted the creativity to be user generated, not prescribed – a place, perhaps, where people might try out new identities, proclivities and modes of escapism.

Still, Rosedale kept a close eye on video games, which provided the inspiration for Second Life’s burgeoning economy. “EverQuest, which was a well-known online game before World of Warcraft, had an economy,” he says. “There was a common meeting area people used as a marketplace, where they would cry their wares in text. That was one reason I was convinced we’d need to use an open economy, because it would allow for very complex outcomes.” A marketplace, he reasoned, would provide incentive for users to “build weird things”, then sell them to each other. “I tried to not get in the way of people being their own creators of narrative and content.”

On Second Life’s launch in 2003, Rosedale’s plans to pay for the project were unsophisticated. Initially, Linden Lab charged visitors a “basic access” fee of $9.95, with monthly premium subscriptions of $9.95 thereafter (or $6 if paid annually). After a year, the company switched to a real-estate model. Anyone could visit for free, but those who wanted to own and shape pieces of the world had to pay. Land renters could do anything they wanted with their patch: erect a billboard, build a skyscraper, dig a mine, even run a company. “That turned out to be a great business model,” Rosedale says. “The people buying land were happy to pay for it because they were hosting other things on it, often to make money.” Some opened stores filled with digital outfits; others became estate agents, selling or renting land in desirable locations. In 2006, BusinessWeek featured the first Second Life millionaire on its cover.

We auctioned off an island on Second Life and when people found out the buyer was a real company, they were up in arms

Linden Lab won’t provide a breakdown of its current revenue, but Second Life generates income from several sources in its virtual economy: land sales, maintenance, fees on certain transactions, premium subscriptions. The remainder comes from tiny fees added to every transaction made or by any user attempting to cash out. “These are typically single-digit percentages,” says Rosedale, who points out that Second Life has higher revenues-per-user than YouTube or Facebook, yet does not rely on advertising driven by behavioural targeting and surveillance, which he describes as deeply unethical practices the public would never accept in the physical world.

It’s unclear, Rosedale says, which corporate interest first acquired land in Second Life: “People just use their credit cards, you know. It’s direct-to-consumer.” He remembers the first noteworthy acquisition, however. “We auctioned off an island.” A London-based marketing and content development company, Rivers Run Red, bought it for an estimated $1,600. “At the time it seemed like a lot,” Rosedale recalls. “And I remember when people found out it was a real company, they were, like, super pissed. Everyone was up in arms.” (In 2008 Rivers Run Red partnered with Linden Lab to launch Immersive Workspaces 2.0, virtual meeting rooms in Second Life that could be tailored to the specific needs of a client – an idea that now seems eerily prescient, and another key area of interest for Zuckerberg’s Meta.)

The idea of encouraging real-world businesses to set up in the metaverse, turning their webstores into polygonal buildings, seems key to Zuckerburg’s vision today, too. Meta’s ecstatic 2022 Super Bowl ad featured a mascot dog, forced into redundancy by a restaurant closure, suddenly able to reunite with former colleagues in the Metaverse, a virtual high street on which his former place of work had been miraculously reopened. The message seemed to be that, as the real world becomes ever bleaker and more disconnected, a new digital world, accessed via VR headsets, offers a place to reconnect with old friends and restore bankrupt businesses.

Yet for every true believer there are 50 detractors for whom every metaverse is a joke, or at least a solution looking for a problem.

To people of my age – “digital natives” who grew up at the same time as the internet – Second Life was a punchline: World of Warcraft but with terrible graphics and no purpose. Why would you want to hang out there, laying white picket fences with bald men pretending to be furries (there are 18,000 items for sale in Second Life stores under the tag “Furry”), when you could be rampaging across the hills of Azeroth, broadsword held aloft, on a mission to take down a giant cave troll?

Unlike the vast, interconnected video games of the time, with their arcane rules and Dungeons & Dragons-esque aromas, Second Life was beloved by mainstream journalists who could more easily communicate its appeal – and report human, sometimes salacious stories – to a non-game-playing audience. Even completely offline people could understand the Daily Mail headline: “Mom-of-four dumps husband for pole dancer she met in online game Second Life”. Nobody at the time referred to Second Life as a metaverse; it was just another online space in which slightly nerdy misfits found community – albeit one that, via its crude graphical representations, made the usual sexual frisson found in online spaces manifest via explicit digital representations.

Second Life has never quite shrugged off that slightly seedy, tragic association. Yet during lockdown, when many people craved social connection, visitor numbers began to grow again. Wagner James Au worked for three years as a journalist embedded in the virtual world and has written a book, Making a Metaverse That Matters, charting Second Life’s rise and fall and rise. According to him, today the population skews middle-aged and around 20% of users have a disability that makes real-world interaction difficult.



Furry wrestlers …


… shoppers …


… and friends hanging out. Photographs: Second Life/Linden Lab
---------------------

While other projects have shrunk and closed, Au believes Second Life has endured because of its capacity to facilitate human creativity. “The power and freedom of its creation tools encourages subcommunities to grow, thrive and adhere in the virtual world,” he says. Neither is it seen as a rip-off: “Strong and fair creator economies are rare among metaverse platforms. But Second Life creators earn roughly as much as Linden Lab.”

Most people first join Second Life out of curiosity or boredom, but the reasons for staying are as numerous as the residents, as Fabrizio Laceiras (known as Aufwie) tells me. A musician based in Birmingham, Aufwie, 26, first visited Second Life aged 12. After experiencing bullying at school, he found it hard to make friends and socialise. “Second Life offered a safe environment in which I could be social on my own terms,” he says. Music was his chosen icebreaker. “I would just pop by some virtual land that allowed microphone usage and start playing guitar and singing until someone approached, and we’d start talking.” Often Aufwie’s performances drew a small crowd, so a friend encouraged him to play a proper concert, building a small stage on her land where he could perform. The pair chose a date and time, and distributed leaflets beforehand. When 50 people turned up, Aufwie’s PC struggled to render the throng on screen: “I was forced to log out momentarily, which gave me a bit of time to process what was happening.”

Then, during the pandemic lockdowns, Aufwie attended a Second Life concert staged by another user, known as Skye Galaxy, that inspired him to professionalise. He has now played at least 300 concerts in Second Life, and continues to receive bookings from users all around the world to play at their virtual events.

In a virtual world you actually have neighbours. And they have different personalities and come from different backgroundsWhile the rise in new Second Life users has tailed off since lockdown, it remains the largest non-video game virtual space predominantly populated by adults. Still, it never quite grew to the scale Rosedale had once believed inevitable. In 2006, he said of Second Life, in a quote that became infamous: “We see it as a platform that is, in many ways, better than the real world.”

There are many long-term users of Second Life who, to one degree or another, agree with the statement. For over a decade, one YouTuber, Draxtor, has recorded the stories of Second Life creators who choose to spend much of their day inside the virtual world, where they can find social connection or physical freedoms unavailable to them in the physical realm. Others, such as Erik Mondrian, a former graduate student at CalArts, have found in Second Life a place for self-expression. Mondrian created a series of elegiac films of Second Life structures and locations accompanied by poetic readings, part of a long tradition of artworks created within and around the virtual world. He remembers the date he made an account: 23 March 2005. He picked his real first name and chose “Mondrian” after his favourite artist, from a drop-down list of options. (In 2017, he tells me, he had his name legally changed to Erik Mondrian.)

In the 18 years since he first made an account, he has drifted in and out of Second Life. “Two things kept me coming back, even after the occasional extended absence,” he says. “One was the people, the other the world; I have a strong fascination for place in all its forms, and I wanted to see more of the amazing virtual spaces people had made and continue to make here.”

Today, Rosedale admits he was naive to believe Second Life would become ubiquitous. “Of course, I shouted it from the rooftops, I was so youthfully excited with what was happening,” he says. “I figured everybody would want to have an avatar and that we would all spend a fraction of our lives in something like Second Life, or hopefully Second Life, for the purpose of doing an interview like this, or shopping, or hanging out with people or just having fun. We would wander and explore the world together. In retrospect, that didn’t happen.”

In part, this is because Rosedale overestimated the difficulty some people have with embodying an on-screen avatar. “I had a utopian belief that most people would be comfortable moving their objective selves into a digital reality,” he says. “That turned out to not be the case. Most choose to identify with only one embodied representation of themselves, and that is their physical body. The difficulty of sustaining a second identity is considerable and the number of people willing to do that is smaller than I thought in 2006. So I don’t think metaverses are going to be able to grow in a way that, for example, would sustain Facebook’s business enough for them to survive. They would need a good part of a billion people doing this.”



Second Life virtual events …


… include music and dance in Peak Lounge …
----------------------

More positively, Rosedale says he was heartened to see how Second Life users predominantly get along. “It’s not divisive, or polarising,” he says. “Obviously I’m biased, but there is a lot of independent research to back this up. Second Life delivers on the dream that a lot of us had about the internet at the beginning, which was that it would be this civil, interesting, thoughtful place where people would, if anything, overcome differences between themselves and find new ground.”

This is where, he argues, the idea of a virtual world built in 3D space offers non-gimmicky advantages over a traditional social network. “In a virtual world you actually have neighbours,” he says. “And they have different personalities and come from different backgrounds, so what happens is people are forced to frequently interact with people who are different from them.” Compared with a Facebook group, which gathers like-minded individuals and encourages self-polarising, Second Life forces interaction with a variety of users.

If it seems as though Rosedale has essentially invented the revolutionary concept of “a village”, he is quick to point out the virtue of virtuality is that there is no threat of physical altercation in disputes; this can encourage a bottom-up civility, easing the burden on traditional top-down moderation techniques deployed by the social media giants. “If somebody’s having an extremist gathering in Second Life, other people are going to wander by and challenge that, because it is occurring in the same physical space. That is a lot healthier than what we’ve seen with the echo chambers and hard boundaries of social media.”

Second Life, to Rosedale, affirms the essential virtues of humanity. “The fact is, most of us almost all of the time are good,” he says. “We’re social, we’re collaborative. Our primary reason for interacting with each other, even with strangers, is to help them. So it’s appalling to me that, via business motivation, we’ve actually managed to create these social media terrariums which manipulate people into being bad to each other, when it’s not their instinct.”

Rosedale believes a ubiquitous metaverse, whether it’s made by Zuckerberg or someone else, has the chance to be a kinder, less invasive online environment. But he fears that most of the companies working on such a project have missed one essential component of lasting success: the fact that people are as much creators as they are consumers. “There isn’t as yet any evidence that people want to have a purely consumptive entertainment experience in social virtual worlds,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any evidence in human history that you can get a billion people to just kind of sit there and veg out, watch stuff. You can’t get to the kind of usage levels that metaverse brands want to get to with a consumer non-participatory experience.”

In Snow Crash, the allure of the metaverse is inextricably linked to the climate crisis. As the real world inside the novel becomes less habitable, human beings retreat further into virtual spaces that allow for increased shelter from heatwaves and biblical floods, combined with greater degrees of exploratory freedom that do not rely on air travel. Yet a valid criticism of virtual worlds is that they draw human focus away from the social and environmental issues that threaten the planet. These comforting playpens are not, critics say, so much a solution as a contributing factor.

Here, Rosedale appears to endorse Meta’s vision for a world of VR meetings. “One of the largest problems around our impact on the environment is travel. When metaverse technology gets to the point where you and I could have had this meeting as avatars, there is a tremendous positive impact on that.” Likewise, if we begin to express our tastes in the digital realm more than the physical one, the cost of creating and “shipping” virtual goods would be negligible. “If you just stay in your room from now on and only use your computer, your carbon footprint is enormously lower than what it would be if you got up out of your chair,” Rosedale says. “I get really mad when people complain and say Second Life avatars take up energy. Sure they do. But they take up, like, 1% of the energy that you do.”

Rosedale’s suggestion that it is, by some metrics at least, preferable for human beings to predominantly live in a digital realm is an idea shared by investors eager to extract capital from digital real estate (which is, for now, far cheaper to buy than real real estate). Whatever the motivation, the quest to build a ubiquitous virtual world with rentable plots and a functioning economy will remain a persistent goal, even if Facebook’s failed efforts demonstrate its expense and elusiveness.

Second Life’s endurance demonstrates that, whatever the configuration, a metaverse’s success can only be founded on human qualities of social interaction and self-expression. “I obviously don’t feel as excited now as when I started roaming around Second Life,” Aufwie says. “But I still feel gratitude towards this apparently everlasting pioneering metaverse that allowed me to express myself, make friends, learn and share thoughts and all the good things humanity has within it.”

Who needs the Metaverse? Meet the people still living on Second Life | Second Life | The Guardian

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From: Ron6/13/2023 6:44:33 PM
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A Romanian hacker who ran the infrastructure behind several malware strains was sentenced to three years in U.S. federal prison on Monday.
therecord.media

Prosecutors said 39-year-old Mihai Ionut Paunescu helped run “bulletproof hosting” service PowerHost[.]ro, which helped cybercriminals distribute the Gozi Virus, the Zeus Trojan, the SpyEye Trojan, and the BlackEnergy malware. Cybercriminals used the malware strains to steal financial information, among other purposes.

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From: Glenn Petersen6/17/2023 3:17:57 PM
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This has to be a big employee morale booster:

Reddit CEO praises Elon Musk’s cost-cutting as protests rock the platform

Steve Huffman said in an interview that Elon Musk's cost-cutting at Twitter was inspiring and that the two have chatted "a handful of times."

June 16, 2023, 2:51 PM CDT
By David Ingram
NBC News
Twitter owner Elon Musk may have had an influence on Reddit’s CEO ahead of changes to the website that have resulted in a user-led rebellion on the platform.

In an interview Thursday with NBC News, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman praised Musk’s aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at Twitter, and said he had chatted “a handful of times” with Musk on the subject of running an internet platform.

Huffman said he saw Musk’s handling of Twitter, which he purchased last year, as an example for Reddit to follow.



Steve Huffman at Variety & Reddit An Evening With Future Makers at Wynn Las Vegas on in Las Vegas, on Jan. 5, 2023.Greg Doherty / Variety via Getty Images
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“Long story short, my takeaway from Twitter and Elon at Twitter is reaffirming that we can build a really good business in this space at our scale,” Huffman said.

“Now, they’ve taken the dramatic road,” he added, “and I guess I can’t sit here and say that we’re not either, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity here.”

Musk shocked Silicon Valley peers with his deep-cost cutting at Twitter and began his ownership of the company last fall by axing most of the company’s employees in a chaotic series of decisions that left some people doubting whether Twitter would be able to stay online.

Huffman is trying to turn Reddit profitable after decades as a money-losing website punching above its weight in internet culture.

This week, influential volunteer moderators who manage the communities that make up the site walled off large parts of Reddit, making them inaccessible to most users as part of their demonstration. The protest is a response to part of Huffman’s business plan, which includes potentially charging other tech companies large fees for access to Reddit data.

Huffman said there’s one concrete area where Musk’s example has been clear: job cuts. He said he had often wondered why Twitter under its previous management had struggled to be profitable on a consistent basis despite revenue in 2021 of $5.1 billion.

“As a company smaller than theirs, sub-$1 billion in revenue, I used to look at Twitter and say, ‘Well, why can’t they break even at 4 or 5 billion in revenue? What about their business do we not understand?’ Because I think we should be able to do that quite handsomely,” he said.

“And then I think one of the nonobvious things that Elon showed is what I was hoping would be true, which is: You can run a company with that many users in the ads business and break even with a lot fewer people,” Huffman said.

Musk ended up hiring some employees back, but corporate headcount has remained well below where it was before the acquisition. Musk has also imposed other severe cost-cutting measures, such as not paying some of Twitter’s bills including rent, leading to an eviction order in Colorado.

“They had to do some pretty violent changes and violent surgery to get there,” Huffman said.

It is not clear if Twitter is profitable because some advertisers have left, cutting into revenue, but Huffman said the lesson was on the other side of the ledger.

“People are talking about a lot of things on Twitter, but I think that’s the part that’s the most interesting from my point of view as a business person, is that there actually are good businesses at this scale,” he said.

Reddit’s recent layoffs have been far more modest than Twitter’s. The company said June 6 that it was laying off about 5% of its workforce, or 90 employees.

Huffman did not say how often the chats with Musk have taken place or where they’ve happened.

Twitter and Reddit are both headquartered in San Francisco, and the privately held companies both share Fidelity as an investor. Reddit is majority-owned by Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast, according to CNBC.

Musk’s representatives at Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Huffman said that many ordinary people do not realize that there are “two classes of company” in the world of consumer-facing tech businesses: There’s internet heavies such as Google and Facebook, and then there are much smaller but still well-known companies such as Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit.

“From a user’s point of view, you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re just as big. They’re just as successful. You know, maybe a little less so,’” Huffman said.

“But you wouldn’t realize that it’s like a 20, 30x difference in revenue. And, you know, not really profitable — maybe a quarter here or there,” he said.

Twitter had $5 billion in revenue in 2021, the year before Musk’s acquisition. Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, reported revenue that year of $117.9 billion. Alphabet, the owner of Google, reported revenue that year of $257.6 billion.

Huffman said he has not adopted Musk’s thinking across the board.

“There’s a lot of other things where our platforms are just different — how they think about moderation versus us,” he said.

He didn’t cite examples. A Reddit spokesperson Friday declined to cite any specifics but said Reddit is different in multiple ways, including that ordinary users have the power to upvote and downvote posts.

One specific difference is their handling of former President Donald Trump and his supporters. While Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, which prior management had suspended after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Reddit has kept in place its ban on the subreddit r/the_donald, a gathering spot for Trump’s supporters.

Elsewhere in the interview with NBC News, Huffman criticized the organizers of this week’s blackout, saying he was considering pursuing rules changes that may allow ordinary Reddit users to vote them out. He compared the long-tenured, difficult-to-oust moderators as “landed gentry,” and some moderators fear Huffman may force them out.

Reddit CEO praises Elon Musk as protests rock platform (nbcnews.com)

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