The Stupidity, It Burns!

What is it about the Carolinas?

I mean, yes, the Republicans have long displayed an unhealthy interest in what’s under people’s clothes and what consenting adults do alone and with each other–does anyone else remember the Meese Commission Report?

But lately it seems as though the Republican-controlled Carolinas are taking the lead in screwball sex-related legislation. Back at the beginning of the year, we had North Carolina’s infamous HB2 and its precursor, Charlotte Ordinance 7056.

Before anybody tries to claim HB2 isn’t sex-related–and I’ve seen that claim–I’m going to point out that, in addition to the notorious bathroom clause, the ban on anti-discrimination policies, the minimum wage clause, and the child labor regulation, HB2 specifically defines “sex” for the state of North Carolina.

And no, I’m not unduly conflating sex and gender here. Don’t forget that North Carolina still has a law banning “sodomy in same-sex relationships” on the books. It’s unenforceable, yes, but let’s not forget which party is going to control the makeup of the Supreme Court for at least the next two years. That being the case, the definition of sex has a certain added relevance.

But I digress slightly.

The latest sexual stupidity is coming out of South Carolina where, as multiple news outlets are reporting, next month the legislature will be considering a bill to require any computer or other device that can access the Internet to come with a porn filter.

Now, granted, there’s a long series of steps between consideration of a bill and it becoming a law. But the mere fact that somebody–specifically, Republican State Representative Bill Chumley–can even propose something so out of touch with reality boggles the mind.

Leave aside the fact that we’ve got two decades of studies that show porn filters don’t work. After all, we’ve had adequate proof over the last several years that Republicans don’t believe in studies that prove anything they dislike.

But Mr. Chumley seems to believe that Apple, Dell, HP, and all the other computer manufacturers will cheerfully create special “South Carolina” editions of their systems that come with a filter installed, that the filter will somehow magically update its list of blocked sites, and that filter removals will raise enough money to make a meaningful contribution to the fight against human trafficking.

Yes, that’s right: the claimed purpose of the bill is to help prevent human trafficking by charging people twenty bucks to remove the filter.

Apparently, Mr. Chumley is unaware that every computer operating system provides a way for users to uninstall software. By themselves, even, without asking a computer dealer to help. How likely is it that anyone other than Mr. Chumley himself will bother paying to have the filter uninstalled?

Mr. Chumley is apparently also unaware of the so-called “Internet of Things”. By calling for filters to be installed on all devices with an internet connection, he’s saying that your next lightbulb, door lock, and refrigerator will need to come with porn filters. And South Carolina will, I’m sure, be happy to take your Jacksons to remove those filters. After all, you wouldn’t want your door lock to be blocked from its daily dose of sex acts, right?

Hey, President Jackson was born in Carolina–though it’s unclear whether that’s North or South. Do you suppose that’s why Mr. Chumley chose $20 as the filter-removal fee? If so, it’s the only sensible part of the entire bill.

Stick ‘Em Up

It’s taken far longer than anyone would have expected, but one small group has attained equality. Not that they appreciate it.

Back in 2003, I talked about a couple of unrelated cases where Apple ran afoul of pornography issues. The first* was the first appearance of “ransomware” on Apple computers. Unlike ransomware on other platforms, no files were encrypted. The software essentially locked the Safari browser onto the page demanding ransom. Kill the browser, delete your browser history, and everything would be back to normal.

* The second case concerned a lawsuit filed against Apple. The plaintiff, one Chris Sevier, declared that easy access to pornography via his iPhone had resulted in his becoming addicted. The suit demanded that Apple add pornography filters to every device they sell. The case is still active. Although it was dismissed in October of 2015, Mr. Sevier appealed the dismissal and continues to pursue the matter. His most recent filing includes an attempt to link the case to a separate suit against HP and Carly Fiorina–and accuses the Tennessee judiciary of being “completely out of control”.

Mr. Sevier has also attempted to judicially link Apple to the fight for equal rights, claiming that if same-sex marriage is legal, it should also be legal for him to marry his computer. I presume this is not the evil iPhone which addicted him to pornography and destroyed his previous marriage.

Poor Apple.

It’s taken almost three years, but Mac users finally have ransomware that’s as much of a pain in the rear as Windows and Linux users.

As ArsTechnica (among other venues) reports, a malware program called KeRanger specifically targets OS X, encrypting files and demanding payment in bitcoins. Mac users, welcome to this frontier. Now that the first settler has arrived, you can be sure there will be plenty of others following. Be careful out there.

Mind you, Windows ransomware authors aren’t sitting idle. BleepingComputer has a rundown on Cerber. This otherwise-typical ransomware package goes one step beyond the usual pop-up dialog box to let you know your data is being held hostage: it uses Window’s voice synthesis routines to speak its message.

I suppose the next escalation will be to replace the soundtracks of your pornographic videos with synthesized instructions for how to pay the ransom.

Oddly, Cerber won’t take your data hostage if your computer is located in Eastern Europe. Perhaps this is a safety precaution to prevent the programmer from being assaulted by his own code.

Speculation that the programmer is in league with the porn producers of Prague seems to be unfounded, as the Czech Republic is not on the “safe” list.

Biting the Forbidden Fruit

Things have been getting sexy for Apple lately, and not in a good way.

There has long been a class of malware in the Windows world called “ransomware”. Once it finds its way onto a computer, it blocks functionality or encrypts data and then demands money.

Recently, this type of evil has made its way to the Mac in the form of a JavaScript program that takes over the Safari browser. It displays a web page that claims the FBI has been monitoring your computer use and has detected that “You have been viewing or distributing prohibited Pornographic content (Child Porno photos and etc were found on your computer).” The code prevents you from leaving the page until you fork over a “release fee” of $300. It also uses Safari’s ability to reload a page if the browser crashes to forcibly reload the lock page if you force-close Safari.

Other claimed violations in the warning message include violations of copyright and, amusingly enough, “your PC may be infected by malware”.

No word on whether paying the ransom actually results in returning control of your browser to you. Fortunately, you can escape very simply without paying the ransom, but you will lose your browsing history, passwords, and other browser data.

So on the one hand, we have Mac users being falsely accused of possessing kiddy porn and being given the option of paying a small “fine” to sweep it under the rug. Meanwhile, Apple itself is being sued for making pornography available.

The International Business Times is reporting that a man is blaming his porn addiction on his MacBook, and is suing Apple. Among his demands are that Apple include a porn filter on every device they make that has the ability to display pornography and to require users to read and agree to a consumer notice about the evils of pornography in order to turn the filter off.

Reports indicate that the plaintiff, a lawyer, has been barred from practicing law due to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome-related mental illness, which could certainly explain some of the more… interesting claims made in the suit. Many people are pointing to the claim that Apple is harming the economy buy driving sex shops out of business as an indication of the plaintiff’s mental illness. Personally, I think a better example is the claim that directly equates Apple’s failure to provide porn filters as the cause of (among other things) ADHD and thrill seeking to the U.S. Government’s failure to invade Afghanistan as the cause of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.

Contrary to what Trekkie Monster would have you believe, the Internet is not just for porn. Why, I’ve used my iPad for as much as five minutes at a time without seeing any pornography!


More seriously, the plaintiff’s suit would also require Apple to proactively seek out sites specializing in pornography and work with the FBI to shut them down. An interesting notion: privatization of the determination of what constitutes “pornography” (Mr. Sevier’s complaint helpfully provides a definition: “any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, or similar visual representation or image of a person or a portion of the human body, which depicts nudity, sexual conduct, excess violence, or sadomasochistic abuse, and which is harmful to minors and adult males.”) Apparently women cannot be harmed by such material. But I digress. Other sections of the legal filing make it clear that the last clause is redundant; in Mr. Sevier’s opinion, any depiction of such materials is harmful to adult males (and probably minors as well).

So we’re not just talking about obscenity here, nor are we talking about legal pornography, we’re talking about any depiction of the unclothed body. And apparently anywhere in the world; Mr. Sevier seems to be unaware that the Internet is global, extending far beyond the FBI’s jurisdiction.


I could go on for hours – the complaint is 50 pages long, and I doubt that there’s a single page that doesn’t contain an outrage against common sense.

The problem here is that if the case isn’t thrown out immediately, Apple will be in a difficult position. The publicity they would receive in fighting the suit would do grave harm to their reputation as a “Family Friendly” company. On the other hand, not fighting the suit and adopting even some of Mr. Sevier’s proposed remedies would cost millions of dollars in creating and maintaining a porn filter that wouldn’t work to Mr. Sevier’s standards anyway (a fact that’s been widely acknowledged since at least the turn of the century). And the intermediate position of paying him a settlement to withdraw the suit and go away would subject them to the same negative publicity as fighting and open them to a potential flood of nuisance suits seeking similar settlements.

Will the suit be tossed? I certainly hope so, but I’m not hugely optimistic. It was filed in Tennessee, a state with a history of prosecuting pornography and obscenity cases across state lines (see, for example, the 1994 “Amateur Action BBS” case in which BBS operators in Milpitas, California were charged with distributing obscene materials in Tennessee in part through a dial-up BBS. Let us hope that Apple meets a happier fate than the Thomases did.


OK, so I’m officially jumping on the bandwagon.

“OMG, Google rejected a porn app for Glass!”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, “Really? Why is this news?”

Background for those of you who might somehow have been unaware of this: Yesterday, 3 June 2013, Google rejected a Google Glass app because it included dirty pictures. The app in question allowed users to take pictures with their Google Glasses and upload them to a website where others (both Glass users and non-Glass users) could view them and rate them. Since the intent was that pictures would include nudity and/or sexual acts, the app fell in violation of the Google Glass Developer Policies. The relevant clause in the policies was added on Saturday, 1 June 2013 – in other words, the app was legitimate when development began, but was not so legitimate by the time it was submitted to Google.

So, a couple of questions:

1) The app makers, MiKandi (link very NSFW) announced their intention to launch the app on 22 May. Did Google change the policies specifically to allow them to reject the app? To me, it seems likely. Allow me to quote the relevant paragraph: “We don’t allow Glassware content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography. If we become aware of content with child pornography, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and delete the Google Accounts of those involved with the distribution.” The way the paragraph is written feels clumsy compared to the rest of the policy (although I’ll admit that’s a subjective matter), and grouping child pornography with “Sexually Explicit Material” feels like a “we left it out, let’s get it into the policy quickly” reaction, where more thought would have grouped it with “Illegal Activities” or even made it a separate paragraph. Whether I’m right or wrong though, why were these policies not in place sooner? My feeling is that Google was taken a bit by surprise by the vehemence of the backlash against Glass. They probably intended to become more detailed in the policies as they shifted more and more from “developer toy” to “marketable product”, but public reaction is moving faster than they planned, and the perception that they’re “promoting pornography” would ruin their marketing plans. I’ll come back to this point in a moment.

2) Will Google keep porn off of Glass? Of course not. Technically speaking, there’s no way they could possibly keep it off. Even if they wanted to, the nature of the Android ecosystem would prevent it. Even if there is no formal provision for installing non-approved apps, in release versions of the Glass implementation of Android, the functionality is so convenient for developers that it would be politically infeasible for Google to remove it (even if it were technically possible, which I tend to doubt). That means that in all likelihood, the furthest they could go would be to have the functionality there but with the UI to enable it hidden; that in turn means that developers will find a way to enable it, with the result that an ecosystem of alternative Glass app stores will spring up, just as they have for mainstream Android. Even that may be overly complicated. The fact that Glass works in conjunction with apps installed on a phone means that Google-approved (or possibly even Google-supplied) Glass apps can be served porn by less-upstanding apps on the phone.

So why is Google bothering? As I said earlier, Google does not want a public perception that they’re “fostering” or “distributing” pornography. Even a belief that they’re making it possible for people to watch pornography in public would be a public-relations nightmare. Imagine the political speeches and press editorials: “How will our children ever be safe when a Glass-wearing predator can watch pornography while stalking them!” Back in December, Google made the “Safe Search” filters more restrictive to reduce the amount of porn shown in search results – unless the user specifically asks for it by including relevant words in the query. This is a similar move. It allows Google to promote the fact that they’re keeping Glass users safe from the evils of the flesh – unless the user specifically asks for it by installing an app through alternate channels.

My prediction is that by the time Glass is available to the general public, there will be a widely-known, easily-available method to get porn on Glass. Anyone disagree?