April 23rd, 2009


This image violated

How many seconds does the average computer user spend reading the terms of use agreement that comes with new software, or membership of a Web 2.0 online service? I'm sure there are ways for the companies concerned to find out, and I'm sure all the indications are that we read several pages of legal text in less than one second. These companies must think we're either incredibly clever, or incredibly stupid.

The fact is, millions of people -- people like me, and perhaps you -- find it perfectly reasonable to click the "Accept" button mere seconds after it appears, and to tell the little white lie that we've "read and accepted the terms of use" even when we haven't bothered to click through to them. Jargon-filled and incredibly un-entertaining, terms of use contracts are there to be skipped, shunned and neglected. They only become relevant when one of the parties in the relationship becomes unhappy with the other's behaviour.

If you're like me, you don't bother reading terms of use contracts when conflicts do occur, either. I mean, what's the point? It's not like this is the Lady Chatterley trial or something. It's just software, it's on the internet, a medium designed to route around damage as easily as it routes around censorship. Terms of use contracts are a form of insurance for companies, covering their asses if their users offend third parties or flout the law, making sure there are no negative consequences for themselves. Nobody expects you to read them.

Today's entry is a little exhibition of all the photos my image hosting service, Photobucket, has refused to display over the past year or so, and replaced with little red "panic flags" or "censorship stickers" marked: "This image or video violated our terms of use".

I never challenge these decisions, never question the process by which they were made. Sometimes I rehost the offending image elsewhere (as I've done today, hosting the images the American company rejected on a Norwegian server instead), but usually I don't bother; by the time Photobucket staff gets to the images, decides they "violate", and shutters them, it's usually a day or so later and the Click Opera piece is old news. (These are obviously decisions machines can't make, and humans are -- luckily for me -- expensive and slow.)

The forbidden images in this "exhibition" mostly involve nudity and sexual explicitness. The image on the right, for instance, comes from Is blech-pharoplasty Western-eyes-ation?, a Click Opera piece about how Japanese porn stars are having operations to make their eyes bigger. The offending images are already mosaic-censored according to Japanese government guidelines, but Photobucket's moral operatives have (correctly) inferred the presence of penises and seen fit to apply the ultimate mosaic -- one featuring a single huge red pixel and a no-entry sign (the traffic metaphor is interesting -- have we tried to enter a one-way street the wrong way? Is this a sexual violation, a contractual violation, or a traffic violation?).

This exhibition -- which is NSFW, "not safe for work", the modern, buck-passing, sublimated equivalent of good old-fashioned "moral turpitude" ("It doesn't offend me, you understand, but violates my contract of employment") -- continues under "the cut" (the modern, vaginal version of the plain vanilla wrapper).

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