It’s so, so arrogant of the Americans to make laws that will impact upon the rest of the world’s access to the Internet. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown remarked that so much of modern life present and the future will be dependent on the internet, access and equal access to it is fundamental to society. The modern internet was created by CERN in Europe, and by Sir Tim Berners Lee, so tell the Americans to get their hands off our internet.
No country is perfect, and certainly, it’s easier to see things when you’re on the outside looking in. However, in the hope of improving life, or making life just that bit easier, here’s five things that weren’t so well thought through, and lessons could be learnt from. In case you don’t like what I say, do remember that last month I did 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock, and that no country is perfect, every country has problems and awesomeness.
1. Free Wifi for Tourists: 3,000 Wifi hotspots for foreign tourists (Sankei). It sounds great, right? You would hope that it would be ‘no strings attached’, but I doubt it. Two of the sponsors are the Osaka tourism bureau and the Kansai business association. In other words, they want to feed you with “information” about where you should spend your money, whilst only providing you with “information” about their club members. I would also be wary, especially when you should consider safeguarding your personal info. “Free” wifi hotspots in Japan are apparently already available in English, but typically there is a sign up page in Japanese, and they are likely to send you spam, in Japanese. The sign up page is likely to ask you for your demographic information, which won’t be related to providing you with free, unbiased information. JR East, the train company that services Tokyo and surrounds, has sold customer Pasmo card information to companies, including age, commuting information, statistics, and so forth without prior consent or such. Apparently, they have not sold customer names, but no word on if they also sold customer contact details or not. So far, no privacy guarantees have been made regarding what they do with the information you provide and your browsing data, and I really doubt they will bother. However, it isn’t such a bad thing. Currently, it’s nearly impossible for a non-resident to get a mobile phone sim card in Japan, even for tourists (see how you can get a sim card at this previous blogpost). Consequently, free internet is better than allowing phone companies charge for phone and internet access (they won’t let you use your overseas model, but force you to buy a two-year contract). Currently, most of the proposed wifi hotspots will be around tourist areas and public transport just in Osaka. Otherwise, Starbucks provides free wifi at the cost of a coffee, and simply only your email address.
A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.
2. English language websites and information
Bouncing straight from internet to Japanese “English language websites”, is the lack of credible English language websites. Many major companies (far bigger, and much richer than JapanesePhotos.Asia), has websites with extensive information in Japanese. Train companies have some good and detailed information on how to get discounts for travel, and earn points on your travel card. However at time of writing nothing in English, or very little or it’s very out of date. Considering that banks and train companies deal with tens of thousands of non-Japanese speaking customers every day, it’s amazing to consider that they think nothing of a sizeable portion of their expat customers. That’s right, banks do not provide any web-based banking services in English (or other major languages in Japan, including Portuguese, Chinese, nor Korean). Banks do have English language websites, but these are only for investors, not customers. Is JapanesePhotos.Asia any different? Well, I wish I had a budget and team of people to write and translate stories. What information I do provide in Japanese is for potential models, though (model call).
Japan has a three tiered system. At the top is the full-time tenured employment, with full benefits for health and pension. Second is contract full-time, usually for a maximum of three or five years. At the bottom is the part-time contract, also for only three or five years maximum. The reason for this is that only full-time tenured employees are entitled to health and pension benefits at company expense, but no-one else is. Most companies want to avoid paying health and pension, so they usually employ staff for a limited term. Even if the job is permanently required, the person filling it is not. As a consequence, most workers in Japan are temps. So is it any wonder that over 70% or 90% (depending on source) of people haven’t felt any benefit from an apparently improved economy? (CNN, and Japan Today). Also, some companies apparently have 70% of their staff classified as managers, which is supposedly because companies aren’t legally required to pay their managers overtime, allowing a loophole for cost-cutting. Japanese companies demand undying loyalty of their workers, but don’t seem willing to return in kind.
Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.
4. Software, Internet, and computing
This time it’s not a problem of Japanese people’s making (I think), it’s mainly America’s. If you’ve never lived outside of your own country, you may find it hard to understand, but this is such an important issue for expats in Japan. Companies like Microsoft, Adobe and such are the biggest culprits, and others like hotelclub.com and surveymonkey.com. Websites for these companies detect that you’re trying to access their website from Japan, because the IP address is Japanese. Consequently, the website software is designed to respond to the IP address locality and provide the website for the assumed language of the reader. So, Hotelclub.com points me to their Japanese language version of their website, because the website designers assume that there are no expats or travellers in Japan, only Japanese people live in Japan, and that all people in Japan can read Japanese. Worse still, you can change the language to your preferred language, but you need to read and understand which one of these is yours: 日本語 and 英語 or ドイツ語 or even 韓国語. The solution would be easy, just write the name of the language IN that language (Wikipedia does it); or instead of detecting the IP address location, use the browser’s language detection. Microsoft’s and Adobe’s strategy to prevent software piracy is to make it impossible for expats in Japan to get their products from shops or even download from their websites their software. Microsoft forces you to use their website in Japanese, and prevents you from trying to purchase software from their American (English language) website. And the Japanese MS website will only allow you to download the Japanese language version of their software, anyway. Consequently, years ago many of my expat friends had to share software. Now we don’t try, we just wait until someone does a trip overseas and ask them to purchase it for us. No wonder why people here have changed from Microsoft and PC machines to the multi-lingual Apple software (I even changed to Linux for a while). Such treatment is a constant reminder that expats don’t belong.
Customers in the Apple store in Japan.
5. Illegal tracking
It was recently announced that Japan Rail Osaka will allow a company to install cameras and face-recognition software to track customers. It’s actually illegal to do this, but the company will do it anyway. The reason given is that they will use the data for disaster evacuation research. However, in normal conditions people will chose exits they need to use, rather than the closest one available. Besides, why is facial recognition required for disaster evacuation? This was not explained. What will the company do with this information? Again, not explained.
6. Customer Service
Yes, I know, “But Japan is renowned for it’s high quality customer service!”. Yes, I have experienced the I-couldn’t-care-if-you-lived-or-died customer service in my own country. Here, when you present yourself to store staff, they go through the robotic motions of pretending to care and go the extra mile for their customers. It’s a quality that Japanese people think is unique to Japan. It’s not. In Korea they say “the customer is king”, meaning treat all customers like royalty. In Taiwan it varies, where there is a desire to please (to have return customers) to having personalised care for the customers they actually do like. In contrast, Japanese store staff avoid me. In the big stores the customer service staff steer clear from me, and it’s only when I catch one in flight between (Japanese) customers can I get my questions answered. Who are the culprits? Well, all of the major companies so far. Bic Camera (see the picture below), Softmap, Yamada Denki, and even when the Starbucks person goes round with free samples, I’m either last or don’t get any. Which, is why I’ve added this number six point in a list of five; I’m writing this in Starbucks, sitting next to a Grande Cappuccino, and contemplating where I’ll have my lunch. Also, if the staff at McDonalds, Starbucks, or a supermarket say something and you either didn’t quite catch it or didn’t understand their Japanese, they may repeat it in well-pronounced competent English. Only to return to Japanese for the rest of the interaction, which is totally bizarre. In Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most European countries, if they suspect that you’re an English speaker, they use English with you from start to finish. Only in my experience in Japan (and Italy) do they use only their first language with you, and only in Japan when they are obviously more competent in English than you are in Japanese, do they insist that you continue to struggle in Japanese. Good luck with that in the 2020 Olympics.
Everybody’s got an app; so naturally WordPress, my blog software designer has got round to making one. That is to say, this post is what über geeks call a “Hello world” event, I’ve now got the app and my watermelon thumbs are punching these letters into the interweb.
In other news, another one of my photos, Look, hit ‘Popular’ status on 500px, and as at time of blogging, has amassed a very generous score of over 90%. Thanks to all on 500px for your votes and kind comments, and thanks for your own great contributions, too.
In the last few weeks there have been attacks against Word Press and Word Press blogs (BBC), like this. At the same time, a huge number of spam user accounts have been made here, so I’ve temporarily disallowed user sign ups. I’ll re-allow sign ups as soon as I see notices of the attacks ending, and appropriate software updates are issued.
As you may know, being an English speaker in Japan, my main and almost only tangible contact with the Anglophone world is via the internet. How else does one keep a healthy state of mind and remain up to date? So, personally and professionally speaking, freedom on the internet is vital for me and the millions of expats from all countries all around the world. Threats to internet freedom is sure to have a stifling affect. Worse still, any such legislation created in the US will affect
People who do not live in America
People who have never been to America
People who cannot vote in American elections, and cannot (and shouldn’t) affect American policy.
So, the gist of CISPA is that your browsing and internet information (things you do, and info you leave on websites) can be shared with American government agencies. Who as access? It’s a long list, the Office of the President, the Office of the Vice Presidents Children, the Forest Service, J-2 Intelligence, West Point Military Academy, (ironically) Office for Civil Rights, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and lots more (EFF, Under CISPA). What can you do? Go to the http://internetdefenseleague.org/ website and show your opposition to the planned legislation, even if you’re not American.
Here we go again… According to the respected Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), CISPA is potentially back in the US (EFF). It is supposedly to allow private companies to eavesdrop on us, which the police would normally require a search warrant for. However, the private companies can gather any information they want, and then hand it over to the law enforcement. Effectively circumventing privacy laws, whilst deteriorating a fair justice system. Effectively, companies and law enforcement in the US can begin to collude, especially for the benefit of companies. Too bad if you support independent film makers, or are one yourself, and too bad if you support freedom of the press, an ethical media, and no media blackouts. Here’s EFF on Google+. In any case, I’m glad I’m not American, but hating the fact that this law will surely affect everyone else beyond America’s borders.
Again, I haven’t been able to post anything nice so far this new month. An email arrived from Google today with this information. The International Telecommunication Union is having a closed-door meeting today and for the next few days in Dubai regarding, presumably among other things, restricting freedoms and imposing censorship on the internet. Vint Cerf of Google wrote:
I published my opinions on CNN.com last week explaining my concerns — and I am not alone. More than 1,000 organizations from 163 countries have raised concerns about this upcoming closed-door meeting in Dubai. They are joined by Internet users from just about every country around the world — take a look.
The end result could allow governments unprecedented power to gather all our internet traffic data and use it as evidence against us at times of their convenience, and despite whether we are nice good citizens or not. In effect, it would prevent an Arab-Spring like protest against Western governments like ours, and of course stifle the normal democratic discussions society has been able to enjoy in the post-war era. Potential new legislation will also give unprecedented power to large corporations. In the post-Napster era, we’ve seen the music industry pursue teenagers who downloaded music for free and demanded millions of dollars of compensation from teenagers who do not have such future earning potential. The new legislation will seriously curtail any competition against such large companies preventing legitimate small companies from being able to compete.
Usually censorship is a good thing. It filters hate groups and other non-family friendly content. Such content is often still allowed to exist, but not be broadly publicly published / viewable. I have no disagreements with such policies. However, mainly American film and media organisations have tried to create international laws in the form of PIPA, SOPA, and ACTA (Wikipedia), (which each have seen protests against, and were successively abandoned). These laws used the ‘censorship’ word to severely restrict the internet with the express aim of allowing corporations to protect their own products at the expense of internet-based free speech (political, artistic, expressionist, etc) and possibly blocking out rival products, whilst at the same time allowing governments to include laws that curtail freedom of speech in democratic countries. The kind of internet censorship being discussed is undemocratic and can result in ordinary good citizens being labelled as criminals, and has nothing to do with protecting family values and curtailing hate group propaganda.
An international meeting will soon be held on the topic of the Internet and will include discussion on censorship (DailyWireless, TechRadar, Google/TakeAction). After the protests in the EU earlier this year on the same topic (TechCrunch: Tech Companies Against SOPA), EU leaders now understand that they cannot sign off on a law that is simply put in front of them, and so they are apparently suspicious of any talk of internet censorship.
If you support democratic free speech, and enjoy the current culture you enjoy on the internet, then you must take a look at Google’s page called “Take Action”.
There was an interesting interview regarding the latest attempt to censor the internet with newly proposed legislation called CISPA, here on YouTube. The main argument against it is that it is an internet version of wire-tapping and snooping. For telephones, police need to argue for and have credible evidence to obtain warrants from courts and judges, but CISPA attempts to circumvent this. A spokes woman from the Centre of Democracy and Technology in Washington says that “…it creates a real civil liberties problem”. Furthermore, she states that there are already law enforcement tools that the various police forces are currently using to regulate the internet, and these don’t infringe on civil liberties.
The problem with CISPA, like PIPA and SOPA, is that these are blanket bills, these attempt not to regulate only Americans in America, but anyone who uses internet services that have connections to the US. Potentially, a crackdown on freedom of speech on the internet can impact beyond the US jurisdiction and infringe on the sovereignties of other countries. However, I’m not American, I have never been there, but I don’t want that government (or any other government of a country I have no ties to) obtaining my information. They simply have no sovereign right to my information.
Happy New Year, and all that malarkey. 1st of January is the start of the Gregorian calendar and therefore the start of the Christian New Year. The Chinese New Year is yet to come, and the Pagan New Year, too. It is an arbitrary date, but interesting to see Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines celebrate the Eve and the New Year at that time just the same.
What is a worrying start to whichever new year you follow is the Stop On-line Piracy Act (SOPA) being proposed in the US. Effectively, any website can be shut down almost arbitrarily if there is even one link, photo, or reference to a product from Hollywood. It appears that the movie and music industries of the US wants to have a total and uncompromising grip on their products. Really, I should be supporting this, as it means that my products also get protection. However, I’m worried that the opposite effect might occur.
If the bill is passed, it is possible that legitimate companies, who legitimately buy my photos, may stop buying my photos as they decide to save their pennies for possible litigation from accidental breaches of SOPA. It also means that the very places where my photos can be virally promoted may also be shut down. If you take a look at my homepage JapanesePhotos.Asia, you’ll notice that at the bottom of the slideshow is a “Share” button, this allows other people to show-off my photos (also see the Steve Jobs memorial photo below). This is one form of promotion I can do on the internet. If you take a look at one of my galleries hosted on PhotoShelter, the Seoul South Korea gallery, you’ll notice that there is a FaceBook, Twitter, and other buttons that help spread the word of my great photos. The problem is, SOPA threatens the very means I use to promote my photos, and could destabilise the internet economy. Finally, what if the very companies I use to even have a presence on the internet, Asia Photo Connection, PhotoShelter, and my webhost are closed down because of SOPA, then where is my ability to have an income? SOPA is not what the internet needs, and the very nature of SOPA is very, very wrong.
On a final note, seeing the reaction of Americans on the internet, it feels like SOPA has the very potential to smother democratic discussions, thereby making life for Americans no different to that of oppressed communist countries like North Korean and China.