When fantasy crosses a criminal line

In his mind and online persona, Gilberto Valle left little doubt about the depths of his depravation: In communications over the Internet, he imagined subjecting women he knew to sex-related torture and, in some cases, murder and cannibalism.

And, prosecutors said, that activity and other actions were all part of what they described as a kidnapping conspiracy, a charge for which he was convicted in 2013.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered Mr. Valle, 30, released on bond just hours after overturning his conviction.

The judge, in a decision released late Monday night, concluded that Mr. Valle’s Internet plotting had been “fantasy role play” and was not evidence of an actual crime.

“This is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace,” the judge, Paul G. Gardephe of Federal District Court, said in a 118-page opinion that granted a judgment of acquittal to Mr. Valle, a former New York City police officer who had faced a potential life sentence for his conviction.The ruling resurrected the key issue in Mr. Valle’s widely followed trial: When does a virtual crime, contemplated in Internet chat rooms, become an actual crime?

Joseph V. DeMarco, an Internet lawyer and a former head of the cybercrime unit in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, said after reading the decision: “I think that the court was profoundly disturbed by the relative lack of evidence in the kinetic world corroborating the defendant’s intent to carry through on any of the communications.”

“What this case, I think, emphasizes,” Mr. DeMarco added, “is that people have broad rights to express fantasies online, which can lead to a lot of speech that people find disturbing and repugnant but which nonetheless will not cross the line into criminal liability.”

Judge Gardephe wrote that in the charged conspiracy, all communications between Mr. Valle and his alleged co-conspirators in New Jersey and overseas took place over the Internet. None of the conspirators ever met or spoke by phone, exchanged accurate information about where they lived or even knew or sought to learn one another’s true identities, he observed. Continue reading “When fantasy crosses a criminal line”

The case for game addiction

First it was Doodle Jump. Then Dots. And now — will it never end? — Flappy Bird.

So many of the games that we download on our smartphones are a waste of time, but we can’t seem to stop playing them. My current high score on the late, lamented Flappy Bird is three. After weeks of tap-tap-tapping to keep that stupid little bird flying.

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Three.Why do we keep falling for these things?

The answer to that question just might be found in, of all places, a medical laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco. Researchers there are trying to figure out what makes games addictive — and how we might use video games to make our minds stronger, faster and healthier.

Using neuroimaging techniques, researchers are peering into gamers’ heads, hoping that the data they collect will help them make video games that change as you play, getting easier or harder, depending on your performance. The idea is to keep people at the addiction point. You know, that infuriating flap-flap-flap zone.

From there, they say, the possibilities seem limitless. One day, we might develop games to treat depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Or games that rewire our brains to improve memory and cognitive function. The list could go on and on. Continue reading “The case for game addiction”

U.K. national block of online porn

In a remarkable move made public today, every household in the UK is to have pornography blocked by their internet provider unless they choose to receive it, David Cameron is to announce.

As discussed in a article appearing in The Guardian, “in addition, the prime minister will say possessing online pornography depicting rape will be illegal.

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“In a speech, Mr Cameron is expected to warn that access to online pornography is “corroding childhood”.

“Search engines will be given until October to introduce further measures to block illegal content.

“In addition, experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) will be given enhanced powers to examine secretive file-sharing networks, and a secure database of banned child porn images gathered by police across the country will be used to trace illegal content and the paedophiles viewing it.”

 

More at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23401076

 

Public support for online learning

Between 20% and 50% of those taking online courses never finish. But ignorance or misconceptions about this seem to be driving public opinion to push for more internet-based education, especially at public universities. As today’s Los Angeles Times reports:

“For Steven Ancheta, the time is long past for more arguments about online education’s merits and convenience. The West Covina resident, who is enrolled in a fully online program for a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, praised the experience and the chance for working people to take evening or weekend classes.images

“His positive view about online education was strongly supported in a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Among the registered voters who participated in the survey, 59% said they agreed with the idea that increasing the number of online classes at California’s public universities will make education more affordable and accessible. However, 34% expressed fears that expanding online classes will reduce access to professors, diminish the value of college degrees and not save money.

“For Ancheta, 21, an accounts manager at a telephone company who participated in the poll, the scheduling freedom of online classes “is a very pleasant alternative.” Moreover, he said, “You can pull away the exact same amount of knowledge you can pull away from a traditional classroom.”  Continue reading “Public support for online learning”

How not to wreck California’s universities

Things must be pretty bad in California if it takes the New York Tims to assemble a coherent argument to save their universities. But this is what happened today in an NYT editorial stating that current plans to force the universities to shift to online teaching will probably wreck the UC system, fail students who need the university most, and damage the California economy to boot:images

“Even before the recession hit, the public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of the nation’s students were suffering from dwindling state revenue. Their response, not surprisingly, was to raise tuition, slash course offerings and, in some cases, freeze or even reduce student enrollment. The damage was acute in California, whose once-glorious system of higher education effectively cannibalized itself, shutting out a growing number of well-qualified students.

“The same California State Legislature that cut the higher education budget to ribbons, while spending ever larger sums on prisons, now proposes to magically set things right by requiring public colleges and universities to offer more online courses. The problem is that online courses as generally configured are not broadly useful. They work well for highly skilled, highly motivated students but are potentially disastrous for large numbers of struggling students who lack basic competencies and require remedial education. These courses would be a questionable fit for first-time freshmen in the 23-campus California State University system, more than 60 percent of whom need remedial instruction in math, English or both. Continue reading “How not to wreck California’s universities”

Those online courses really do count

Legislation will be introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that could reshape higher education by requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus, reports today’s New York Times.

“If it passes, as seems likely, it would be the first time that state legislators have instructed public universities to grant credit for courses that were not their own — including those taught by a private vendor, not by a college or university.

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“We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the Senate, who will introduce the bill. “That’s the motivation for this.” Continue reading “Those online courses really do count”

Gender bias in online games

Verbal abuse is a pandemic in the online gaming community.And while it affects all sorts of gamers, there’s a select brand of vitriol reserved for women who venture into voice chat. For an interesting article on this phenomenon, see themarysue.com, excerpted as follows: ” This is an oft-discussed issue, and we still don’t have a good understanding of the root causes, or of what we can do to alleviate it. But some recent academic research provides a interesting (and sobering) look at how persistent the problem is.imgres-2 Continue reading “Gender bias in online games”

Online games boom in China

In the five years through 2012, revenue for the Online Game industry in China increased at an annualized rate of 34.4% to $9.3 billion, says PRWebimgres. “The number of online game players in China has been growing 34.7% per year over the period, and about 59.5% of internet users in China are also online game players.

“Although the first online game was designed by a domestic studio, the Chinese online game market was dominated by foreign games in the early years of the industry’s development. Domestic firms only took a leading share of the market in 2006, says IBISWorld. Over the past five years, Chinese-made online games have been increasingly well accepted by the global market, with exports growing faster than total revenue.

“In 2012, the top four players in the Online Game industry in China – Tencent, Netease, Shanda Games and Perfect World – made 61.4% of total industry revenue, which indicates a medium level of concentration. The few large-scale companies that are able to raise enough funds develop high-quality games and buy operation licenses from other companies. However, the majority of enterprises in this industry are small game studios developing lower-quality games.

“As the Online Game industry matures and comes under more regulations, competition will become more intense and profitability is expected to fall somewhat, says IBISWorld. Game companies will invest more into research and development to design better and fancier games. In particular, firms will focus on further penetrating the 15-to-34 age group, offering more social, mobile and browser games to cater to this market.”

For more information, visit IBISWorld’s Online

 

 

More: http://www.prweb.com/releases/china/online-games/prweb10414609.htm

China tightens online cotrols

China is ending 2012 by tightening controls on internet speech and privacy.

Already one of the most restrictive governments in the online world, the Chinese government is ramping up efforts to silence dissidents and limit access to what are perceived as subversive influences. Historically, communications media have always played a role in national civic identity – whether to unify or to divide. Just as the printing press fostered early nation-states and the popular overthrow of royal authority, so today television and the internet are thought to foster division within nations around the world. As today’s Al Jazeera reports,imgres

“China has unveiled tighter Internet controls, including legalizing the deletion of posts or pages which are deemed to contain “illegal” information and requiring service providers to hand over such information to the authorities for punishment.

“The rules suggest that the new leadership, headed by Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, will continue muzzling the often scathing, raucous online chatter in a country where the Internet offers a rare opportunity for debate.

“The new regulations, announced by the official Xinhua news agency on Friday, also require Internet users to register with their real names when signing up with network providers, though, in reality, this already happens. Chinese authorities and Internet companies such as Sina Corp have long since closely monitored and censored what people say online, but the government has now put measures such as deleting posts into law.

“’Service providers are required to instantly stop the transmission of illegal information once it is spotted and take relevant measures, including removing the information and saving records, before reporting to supervisory authorities,’ the rules state. The restrictions follow a series of corruption scandals amongst lower-level officials exposed by Internet users, something the government has said it is trying to encourage. Chinese Internet users already cope with extensive censorship measures, especially over politically sensitive topics like human rights and elite politics, and popular foreign sites Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube
are blocked.”

 

For complete story, see: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2012/12/20121228122858304837.html

 

Unlocked iPhone 5 from Apple online

Apple has begun taking orders for unlocked versions of its iPhone 5 through the company’s U.S. online store. While the unlocked phone probably will seem a bit pricy for the average consumer, the $659 price may make sense for people who frequently travel internationally or simply want to be free from contacts to service providers. Unlocked version had been available at some Apple stores. According to Apple, the unlocked units are seeing ship-by times of one week, identical to Verizon, AT&T and Sprint iterations, while orders are limited to two handsets per customer. Continue reading “Unlocked iPhone 5 from Apple online”

Half the Sky to launch online game

Half the Sky now is going digital with a new online game. In early 2013, the movement to empower women and girls continues with a new adventure on Facebook. This new game is part of a growing effort on the part of game developers (Zynga, in this instance) to partner with groups working for social change.  Half the Sky Movement: The Game is inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and brings players first to a small village in India to meet Radhika. The press release says that “Over 300 million people play online social games each month, and their demographic profile cuts across gender and age groups. In the game, Radhika will take players on a global journey, from India to Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the U.S. In her transition from oppression to opportunity, she must find her voice in her own house and gain financial and social independence. Players start with very little, but as they complete quests to help Radhika and other girls and women, Radhika becomes a community leader. Whether helping a girl in the village to buy a bicycle that will take her to school, or fighting off an international gang of sex traffickers, Radhika becomes a force within her world. Continue reading “Half the Sky to launch online game”

Ending modern day slavery

“You know that moment when you read something, and then immediately have to re-read it because you cannot believe it is true? That happened to me when I read that the levels of slavery and people trafficking today are greater than at any point in history.” These words by Tony Maddox introduce the CNN Freedom Project, which two weeks ago won an Online Journalism Award (OJW) for its newly launched digital magazine combatting global slavery. CNN received honors in the Best Feature category for it series “Slavery’s Last Stronghold,” which followed the stories of slaves and slave owners in Mauritania, the last country in the world to abolish slavery but where it is thought between 10% and 20% of the population still live in servitude. The United Nations estimates the total market value of human trafficking at 32 billion U.S. dollars.

But slavery isn’t an abstract or far-away issue. California accounts for 25% of human trafficking in the US, with the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco leading the list of slave cities. This November, California Ballot Initiative #35 would strengthen criminal penalties for those who gain from such exploitation. Continue reading “Ending modern day slavery”

Has the gaming bubble burst?

 

By some reports in the financial sector, the meteoric ascent of computer games in the 2000s has officially ended, with sales of titles like Diablo and World of Warcraft dropping 28% in the past two years. The New York Times recently ran a story comparing gaming today to the dot-com phenomenon of the 1990s, as it now “ has found itself teetering at the edge of a financial cliff.”  But closer examination of the situation reveals that while big-name console games have indeed sold less, the number of people playing games on smart-phones and tablet computers continues to surge by as much as 35% in 2012 alone. Excerpted and linked below are two stories on this topic. Continue reading “Has the gaming bubble burst?”