CyberTech Rambler

April 18, 2013

No mate, LSE did not put you in danger, you did

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:10 pm

A few days ago I said that by providing cover for a journalist, LSE students put academics working in danger zone at risk. Universities UK had issued a Press Release on similar line.  I am glad I am not the only one who noticed this as an big issue. [Declaration of Interest: Universities UK provided a large part of my tuition fees for my PhD studies back in the late 90s to early 2000]

I also noted that the LSE students involved claimed that by going public, LSE put them at more risk. I disagree with them. Their affiliations will be public knowledge once BBC broadcasted the Panorama programme. There is no way to hide it even if the BBC footage avoid showing them at all. With a bit of research, People will put two and two together. That is assuming that nobody choose to ‘leak’ the information. As LSE’s reply to them clearly indicated, at least one party already threaten to release their affiliation details. Smarter ones among them would had realized that there is no way to hide their affiliations once they see John Sweeney and know that it is a Panorama programme.

As for their claim that there is informed consent, I do not think they are best-placed to judge it for themselves. It is a complex issues and they are  stakeholders in it. Only an disinterested bystander familiar with the issues of informed consent and the situation can make a judgement. For example, if it is very important for them to be on the trip (and I have to stress that it is not the case here), then one can easily make the case that they cannot give informed consent. Period. It does not matter whether the decision to allow Panorama to come along rest on majority or unanimous decision because one have to assume they are under undue pressure, whether they realized it or not.

My cursory examination of the issue says that if  Mr Sweeney’s identity and the Programme name where made available to them in the UK before they left then we have informed consent. They are adults and I do not think there is undue pressure on them. Mr Sweeney and Panorama is in a different league than say, a correspondent from another BBC programme. In this case I would argue the identity of the reporter and programme is an important parcel of the informed consent process. Thus, knowing the identity of the journalist and program only when they are in China means  the students have too much committed to be able to give informed consent.

I also cannot believe the how naive the students are when they wrote in their letter that “nothing happened… which would indicate that we were put in danger”. They were lucky. There won’t be anything hint that indicate you are in danger. Even if there was, there will be no escape route.  It would take the British Embassy there days if not months to work out where you are let alone getting you out of the country.

The sad thing is, and there is no way the student would know before hand, except for video footage that looks like someone went for a tour in a third world country, nothing in the Panorama programs that indicate it is worth the risk. People says it contain nothing that a tour trip to North Korea would not show, and I tend to agree. All it did is to provide enough video footage to make up a TV program. There is nothing much in there that North Korea do not want tourist to see. As for BBC claims of public interest? After watching the program, I think the only justification for it being “in the public interest” is because since North Korea is in the news, anything BBC shows about North Korea would automatically qualify as Public Interest.  In m opinion, it is there is the content of the program that make the public interest claim. It reveals nothing here that makes the risk of the trip worthwhile.


April 15, 2013

BBC +1, North Korea -1, Academic Research -10

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:33 pm

I do not normally comment on political issues, but I think I do need to comment on BBC going undercover with LSE students in North Korea because of its wider implication on academic research, something the Press seems to have either no interest of, or that I am wrong by raising this issue.

BBC got its programme, so it is one up for BBC. North Korea was deceived, so it is one down for North Korea. This much is  clear.

I am going to skip over the question of whether the LSE students were capable of  giving ‘informed consent’. ‘Informed consent’ is a very complicated issues involving how much one knows and when one knows about it.

And I am also skipping over the issue  whether there is  conflict of interest over the trip. I am leaning towards no conflict of interest, but the fact that the presenter spouse organized the trip do raise eyebrow. If the case is taken any further, I hope this issue is examined. I cannot take the fact that no party raise  this as an issue as no issue because both parties has something to lose by indulging in this issue.

What I am going to concentrate on is whether the LSE students are right to allow BBC to go undercover with them. I am assuming proper ‘informed consent’ and they did know it is going to be a big documentary. I think they are wrong.

Before I continue, I have to put my disclaimer in now: I am working in an academic-support role.

The reason I think they are wrong is because they did not uphold the principle of academic neutrality. Yes, we always had academics working as spy, or spy posing as academics. We also always have journalist posing as academics (as in the case here). I believe one should defend academic neutrality by not getting involve in these skullduggery.

Why? A lot of real bona fide academics rely on neutrality to protect them and to allow them to carry out valuable works, especially in conflict zone or where the political situation is hostile. They manage this because of the trust others give them. The LSE students had just destroyed this trust and put everyone of them at risk by raising suspicion on them. They should not had allowed BBC or anyone to tag along. Now everyone is going to be suspicious of all academic research activities. This damages academic research in a way that is difficult to repair. All for what? A throw-away TV programme? That’s why Academic Research got a -10 from me instead of -2.

I do realised I should not be this harsh on the students. After all, they are students. If my experience is any guide, they are more likely to be young and inexperience. In all likelihood, they haven’t considered my point here. If they had, they probably realized that they just made their potential academic career harder for themselves. After all, if your studies required you to go overseas to research your subject matters, ain’t you closing the doors to yourself by getting involved in this mess?

April 12, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:41 pm

It is a bold claim  that Google is going to escape a fine from EC antitrust probe on its search engine/advertiser notice. If true, not having to fork out a single cent itself is and will be a big win for Google.

It is said that Google is willing to change its practice to alleviate EC’s concerns. Depends on how much Google has to modify, that might turn out another win for Google if the changes is relatively minor. I had been anticipating some changes since the probes began. Google is a company stuff by human, and human do make mistake. Not that I believe Google’s “Do no evil” slogan, but I do not think anything that Google did so far is deliberately designed to disadvantage its competitors unfairly.

I personally cannot see any evidence that  the complain that Google favours its own result has any merit. So far, none if its competitors who initiated the complains come out with any evidence to back its allegations. I might also had swallowed Google’s PR where it says it is “open” with its data and extrapolate it to means it also offers its advertisers more information than other service. Nonetheless, I still believe it is right for the EC to scrutinize Google’s practice  given its size and influence. The EC, compared to the US, had demonstrated that it is willing to explore preventing monopolistic abuse instead of cure it. I do believe this way of working has merit and is worth exploring.

I do believe once the settlement is made public, we will see that Google simply has to do minor adjustment to its practices. That is something that will disappoints those competitors behind this antitrust effort. If any, recent efforts to give Google more legal problems suggests the current antitrust probe has disappointed them. Those efforts basically recycled the same arguments in a different forum. If the probe had been going their way, why not let the EC concludes its prob first before firing the legal salvos as that would make it more likely to win the lawsuits.

April 9, 2013

Don’t just talk, do it!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:52 pm

TheRegister reports that News Corp threaten to take Fox Channel into subscription service if the courts refuses to shut down Aereo. I say do it mate!

Why? The decision on whether to make Fox a subscription service depends on how much News Corp can milk it for profit. Even if Aereo is ruled illegal Fox might still go the way Sky Sport News channel do over here in UK, i.e., becoming a subscription service simply because News Corp can wants to milk its viewers. I pretty much doubt whether Aereo is legal or not weight that much in News Corp calculations.

Finally, as thing stands  today, Aereo is NOT a pirate. News Corps President may yet succeed in overturning the court’s decision in appeal, but right now what Aereo is offering is legit because a court says it.

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