Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mile i Pod

Watching What You Want to Watch Where You Want to When You Want to

Alright here is something perhaps new for you... Where do your rights start when it comes to where you can watch or surf something on the privacy of your own PED (Personal Electronic Device -- Notebook or Laptop computer; iPod; Portable DVD player; mp4 player; personal video player...)?

American Airlines has an in-flight Wi-Fi service now for passengers which started on some flights August 20th¹ and there are concerns voiced by flight attendants and passengers about people using the service to access porn sites while on flights. An article on mentions that there were "a lot of complaints"¹and that the Association of Professional Flight Attendants has brought up the issue with management  They recommend that American filter its Wi-Fi service -- blocking black-listed sites -- in order to block offensive content² as I believe there are plans to screen VoIP service as well³. VoIP is Voice over Internet Protocol which basically is the primary way of making telephone calls by way of your Internet connection. (image to left* from Image*After)

There are a number of issues involved. There are the worries that passengers will complain that their neighbouring passengers are watching objectionable material on their PED. Of course there are also worries that passengers might be disturbed that their ability to access any site they could from home would be blocked in a form of censorship. More seem to be accepting of this in the case of the VoIP¹. Perhaps they can see that is in direct competition with the telephone service the airlines already charge for on flights?

Flight Attendants in addition to not wanting to get an eyeful of something they'd rather not see on someone's PED also do not want to become "moral policemen"¹ and have one more area where they might have to lay down the law. They have their hands full with other aspects of the job and likely don't want to have to settle disputes between passengers -- which might be either "they've got something objectionable on their screen" or "the person behind me keeps looking over my shoulder". Another aspect is people doing lewd things while watching explicit content.

(image to right from Image*After)

This is not something that came up just with the introduction of WiFi and Internet connectivity on airliners. This issue also comes up with whether an airline can prohibit what sorts of DVD or other content a passenger is viewing on their PED. A person can have a DVD with nearly any sort of content imaginable and pop it into a player -- whether computer or not -- and play it with no Internet involved at all. Likewise for video podcasts or even audio ones -- remember the "faked orgasm scene" from "When Harry Met Sally".

Of course these things did not appear with digital electronics. The same problems can be said about explicit magazines. Anyone could flip open the magazine of their choice on the airplane and start "reading the articles". Things like this have been a part of life for quite a while and are not really new.

Anyone who is offering the service of an Internet hookup probably has the right to say what they want to provide or block -- perhaps other than the actual providers? If  coffee shop provides WiFi connection to its customers, they probably can block access to some sites with blocking programs. I know when I go to places that provide such services the first thing I get when I try to access the Web is a screen asking if I accept the limits and risks imposed on me and that I might be exposed to by connecting to the Internet there. I can just imagine someone suing a coffee shop for a virus they picked up on their computer when the were downloading pirated game software.

(Image to left from Image*After)

I am not sure if it is a "non-problem" really. I don't know that it has been a problem with people sitting in coffee shops drinking Latte and watching XXX. For the most part regular people behave themselves in public. The times they don't seem to tend to be the times when they are getting intoxicated or high... and that is an issue on its own whether on land, "see" or airline. Control the booze and you likely won't have to worry  about controlling the people.

(image to right from Notebook Review¹¹)

Of course if you control porn sites, then you'll want to control pirate software sites too. You'll want to screen out any site that would have illegal activity on it. But what about violent video games? with violent lyrics? ...content that might be deemed offensive for racial, religious, or other sexual reasons? What if someone is watching news content from an enemy country? ...or news from a country that has opposing views to your own country? What if one person is offended that the person next to them is watching religious programming?

I think that often the answer given by peace officers is "then don't look" -- though sometimes it is hard when it is presented nearly on your own lap. Luckily nearly everyone has the decency to use headphones or earphones. I think that rather than blocking things, it perhaps should all be taken care of on a case by case basis.

I was remembering back when I was in university and calculators were a novel thing still, but becoming commonplace. There were worries about people cheating by seeing the numbers on someone else's calculator. I think that manufacturers foresaw this because it wasn't very long before calculators -- at least scientific and engineering calculators -- had recessed numbers so that you could only read the display from where you were using it. If you were to the side at all you couldn't read the numbers.

Anti-glare shields that came out for early computer monitors (image to left - image from Ergo in Demand) also had this function and it was considered to be a feature for offices where you wouldn't want confidential information seen by people nearby. With some older laptops it was difficult to see the screen unless you were in front of them. But because many people want to share what they show on their laptop screen, many consider it a bonus to have the screen viewable from a broad range of angles -- otherwise there would be less problem with neighbours seeing what you see.

But there are purposes for such a product for notebooks especially and perhaps there are such products out already... Yup There is a 3M PF14.1 - notebook privacy filter! (image to right - image from CDW Canada)

Perhaps though there might be a market for disposable/resusable "blinders" for computers? Perhaps the airlines might offer them for safe viewing? They could also double as glare shields from the cabin lighting.

Protection provided for your viewing pleasure.

~ Darrell


¹ "American Air Attendants Urge Fiters to Bar Web Porn (Update3)" Mary Schlangenstein, Sept. 10, 2008; News.

² "Porn on a plane: Flight attendants fret over inappropriate Web surfing" David Carnoy, Sept. 12, 2008; Crave, the gadget bog -- CNET,

³ "Airlines planning to filter, censor in-flight 'Net access" Jacqui Cheng, Dec. 24, 2007; From the News Desk -- ars technica.
"Porn on a plane! Concerns raised over naughty in-flight WiFi" Jacqui Cheng, Sept. 12 2008; From the News Desk -- ars technica.

¹¹ "Coffee Shop Laptop Zombies" Andrew, May 23, 2007; Notebook Forums and Laptop Discussion - Notebook Review

* Images of airliners not intended to represent American Airlines or specific airline

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