Our project that names names of code that users should look out for, StopBadware, has released its latest instance of an application that falls outside of the scope of our guidelines. We think computer users should beware of the Jessica Simpson Screensaver (in case the name didn’t give it away to you already).
The idea of this project, in my view — yes, I am biased! — is a good one: we ask computer users to tell us about bad code they come across, or at least code they’re worried about. We put the info into a clearinghouse. Then, our team of researchers tests out the code. Where there’s smoke, we look closely to see if there’s fire. We work with a leading group of advisors and technology working group members to stay on the straight and narrow. And then we publish, periodically, what we come up with. The model comes from Jonathan Zittrain’s paper, The Generative Internet (required reading for those in our space, if you have yet to do so; forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review).
Over time, we hope that computer users will come to check with us before downloading an application, at least to know a bit better what they’re getting into (and downloading anyway, if they are not troubled by our findings). And, as in several cases so far in our first few months of operations, we hope that those of whom we write about will make adjustments, on their own, of their code according to our recommendations. We hope the net effect will be a better, safer, net and computer users who come to trust, with reason, the code that they decide to run on their PCs.
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Today, back briefly in Cambridge, MA, for a working session on our Digital Learning project, funded kindly by the Mellon Foundation. We’ll have a white paper coming out of this project in coming months.