Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 12/2/18: Stupid Legislature Tricks, NFL Values, And Google Is Now Evil, So Watch Out

Good Morning!

Haven’t featured the Battle Hymn of the Republic for a while: it was the musical climax of my Dad’s funeral service at Arlington National Cemetary. My many performer friends sure came through that day. “Wow,” the chaplain exclaimed when the rousing three choruses were finished.

1. On Wisconsin. After a party flip in state governments, the party on the way out will occasionally try to pass lame duck legislation to try to hamstring the new majority. I’m pretty Ethics Alarms has covered other examples of this in the past; if not, it’s because the stunt is usually grandstanding for the base, or mere politics Such laws often fail to  withstand judicial challenge. If a legislature can get away with it, then it’s in the ethics gray zone of politics.

On Monday, the GOP majority Wisconsin legislature will try to pass as much as it can of a huge bill with many dubious or controversial provisions, including some that would limit the new governor’s powers to control the state attorney general, and others that would constrict broad powers the same legislature gave to the defeated Republican governor, Scott Walker. As long as a legislature has power to act, one cannot logically criticize efforts to benefit that legislature’s majority party and its constituents until it has the power to do so no more. If the parties mutually agreed to informally ban such lame duck tricks, that would be wonderful.

As it would be if I could win an Olympic swimming medal.

Sources: Journal-Sentinel 1, 2, 3

2. How clever, and further vulgarizing public discourse, too! I have now heard two ad for Christmas products use the term “elfing,” as in “It’s elfing awesome!” ZOne was a TBS ad for the movie “Elf.”

Really? Obvious plays on the word fuck to promote Christmas and a children’s film? Continue reading

Should Google Be Trusted To Censor Websites According To What It Determines To Be “True”?

Here's irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who's not telling the truth, it's lying.

Here’s irony for you: when Google says it can develop software to decide who’s not telling the truth, it’s lying.

Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil.” It’s well-debased by now: agreeing to help China censor the internet modeled  a non-existent distinction between “don’t be evil” and “don’t assist evil.” I’m not ready to call Google’s looming truth algorithm “evil,” but it is certainly sinister and dangerous.

Google’s search engine rose to dominate the field by using the number of incoming links to a web page to determine where it appears in search results. Pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. “The downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them,” says Newscientist.

Now a Google research team is altering the system to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its web popularity. Instead of counting incoming links, the proposed new system would count the number of “incorrect” facts within a page. “A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” says the team. Each page will get its computer-determined Knowledge-Based Trust score, which the software will derive by tapping into Google’s  Knowledge Vault, a repository of what Google’s claims is Absolute Truth based on web consensus.  Web pages that contain contradictory information will be bumped down the rankings, so fewer minds will be warped by non-conforming information.

Naturally, the Left, assuming that its view of the universe is the unassailably correct and virtuous one, loves this idea. That should put that”climate change denialists” in their places–at the bottom of web searches. Says Salon, which never met a conservative argument that wasn’t a lie (NEVER met? Oh, oh. There goes Ethics Alarms down the search results!), “Even though the former program is just in the research stage, some anti-science advocates are upset about the potential development, likely because their websites will become buried under content that is, well, true.” Continue reading

Allied Against Consumers and Ethics: Google and the Sociopathic Businessman

Today the New York Times extensively documents the unethical business strategy used by the owner of a web-based eyewear business.

After making the discovery that Google does not distinguish between positive and negative mentions of a business on the Internet, he resolved to treat complaining customers as badly as possible to encourage complaints about his company on consumer sites. I do mean “as badly as possible”: the Times relates the accounts of customers who received insulting phone calls, threatening mail, and other harassing and bullying communications from the entrepreneur, who uses multiple aliases. The method works well: since on-line diatribes, complaints and bad reviews have piled up over his poor service, outrageous conduct and often shoddy merchandise, the man’s business is booming. Its name consistently nears the top of Google’s search results when a potential customer types the name of his or her favorite eyewear designer and “eyeglasses,” sometimes placing higher than the designer itself. Continue reading

So Much For “Don’t Be Evil”: YouTube and Google Ethics on Display

The Business Insider has posted evidence gathered by Viacom in its lawsuit against Google, consisting primarily  of e-mails and instant messages. It is far from conclusive on the legal issues, which revolve around YouTube and Google’s unauthorized use of copyrighted material. It is very conclusive, however, regarding how often any ethics alarms went off with various Google and YouTube executives as they contemplated bottom line issues: rarely.

Here is a startling example.  In a 2005 e-mail exchange YouTube co-founder Steve Chen reasoned thusly: Continue reading

Trusting Google

Google is a significant force in the dissemination of information, and that translates into power. The most ethical use of that power is no use at all: just give us a way to find what’s on the web, and let us do the filtering, thanks. As you probably know, Google has the credo “Don’t be evil,” a three-word invitation to controversy. What does Google regard as “evil,” exactly? Its Code of Conduct Preface explains:

“Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”

Good. That’s seems exactly right— unbiased access to information. Two recent situations, however, have raised questions about how unbiased Google really is. Continue reading