Friday, May 23, 2014

Mark Cuban, and the Difference Between Racism and Common Sense

So Mark Cuban is being criticized for some comments he made recently, tangentially related to the Donald Sterling controversy. Essentially, what Cuban said is that he would be cautious around people he perceived as potentially dangerous, and that perception could be based on many factors: area, race, clothing, tattoos, general appearance, etc. Then he characterized those perceptions as based on stereotypes... which is true, in a certain sense. In another sense, though, we might call that behavior by another characterization: common sense.

People (as well as animals in general) have evolved to be cautious of things they perceive as potentially dangerous, and for good reason. Dangerous things threaten us, and it would be foolish to ignore potential signs of danger, or wander through life intentionally ignorant of your perceptions of your environment, and the people and things in it. You wouldn't wander across a busy freeway, intentionally ignoring the cars whizzing by in some absurd nod to political correctness. Likewise, it's common sense to pay attention to the people around you, and evaluate (based on your knowledge and experiences) who might be a threat, so you can take appropriate precautions.

If you're walking alone in a bad neighborhood late at night, and you come across a group of heavily tattooed individuals wearing known gang attire, you're probably going to try to avoid them, or at least be more cautious around them. Now if they are hispanic, does that make you racist? Of course not; the race of the people is just one factor in your evaluation of them, possibly not even a major factor, and it would be absurd to ignore the potential danger which your common sense is alerting you to.

At what point, then, does an evaluation of people border on racism? Well, as Cuban observed, people's perceptions of the relative danger of others is influenced by their knowledge and observations, including factors which may be stereotypes or unfairly prejudicial. For example, if you think all black people are dangerous, you might be more inclined to avoid black people, even absent any other observable factors. That could lead to you being considered racist, by others who did not have the same impressions or experiences, and/or did not see any more reason to be fearful of black people.

The thing is, though: there are statistics, of crime and malicious activities, which are sometimes correlative to race, even though the political correctness class would prefer that not to be the case. Allowing statistics to influence your perceptions is probably wise, in general; that's why you might try to avoid walking alone in "bad" neighborhoods at night, for example. Someone who is judging prejudicially based on race might, in some cases, make the same judgments as someone acting without bias, but making judicious and informed observations based purely on statistics.

What Cuban observed, correctly, is that people make informed judgments, and that doesn't necessarily make them racist. Racism is judging someone differently because of race, which can often be difficult to discern, without knowing the thought processes of the people involved. Using your knowledge and experience to avoid danger to yourself isn't racism; that's common sense. Assuming that someone is making judgments based on race, when there are valid statistics to also support the same judgement, means you're seeing racism where it may not exist. If you assume the person making such judgments is racists, just because of the color of their skin... that makes you the racist.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Google and the EU: The Right to be Forgotten

So there was an EU court ruling recently, in which google lost an appeal to remove links to someone's information which was deemed to be "out of date". Without getting into the specifics of the case or the ruling (both of which were dumb), the aftermath raises a few interesting points. Among them: how should google comply with the ruling, and what should google do to prepare for similar future rulings in other jurisdictions. One publication, for example, suggested that google should modify its core search algorithm to generate results which were more compliant with the EU court rulings. I think that idea is absurd and unworkable, and I have a better idea for them.

See, one of the problems google faces with complying with this ruling is the verification issue. Not only is verification of "outdated" data time consuming and expensive, but its also highly subjective. However, since fines in the EU can run as high as 5% of gross revenue per day, non-compliance is not an option. Google needs to do something to comply, without getting dragged into an expensive and potentially litigious process of manually handling and adjudicating every censorship request. That strongly suggests an automated process.

I suggest the following solution. First, establish (if not already in place) an EU portal, through which all visitors from the EU will be directed (allowing easy bypass is optional, depending on legal requirements). Then, establish a portal by which anyone can request any link be removed, with no verification whatsoever. Since google does not have a legal obligation to provide links to all sites, this would be fine legally-speaking, and sidestep the whole adjudication process. Then, for the EU portal, show the normal search results, with all censored links removed.

Benefits? Well, there are several. First, it would achieve easy compliance with the existing ruling, with virtually no overhead. Second, it would allow compliance with future rulings, no matter how absurd. Third, google could comply with similar rulings in other jurisdictions, with similar area-specific portals. Forth, if legally permitted, it would be trivial to allow users to bypass the filters, by simply accessing the US (and/or non-filtered) version of the search results. Fifth, it would be trivial to reverse, as necessary. Oh, and I guess you could also be "forgotten" online in the EU, kinda, if you considered that a benefit.

Drawbacks? Well, obviously it would be ripe for abuse, and you'd expect to see quite a bit of unfounded and/or malicious takedowns of links, until the EU portal was a very strange subset of the internet as a whole. However, I'm not sure I'd qualify that as a strict drawback, since the more absurd the result would become, the more absurd the original ruling would appear, which might be a positive in the longer run. Moreover, it could motivate people to standardize more methodologies to bypass area and nationality based restrictions on internet content, which would be good for freedom of information worldwide. Really, then, any drawbacks would likely be only short term, or balanced out by positives.

Anyway, that's how I think google should approach this ruling, for what its worth.