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Tech companies, NGOs working on code of conduct Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and European communications company Vodafone are working in conjunction with a handful of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to create a code of conduct to govern the companies’ conduct when it comes to freedom of speech, user privacy, and other human-rights issues. The discussion began late in 2006 and is being spearheaded by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) in Washington DC, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and Business for Social Responsibility in San Francisco. Compromise and criticism Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft are no strangers to controversy when it comes to freedom of expression on the Internet. All three companies have chosen to make concessions to the Chinese government with regards to how they handle freedom of expression and privacy issues in order to set up business there. Yahoo has been pilloried for turning over e-mails sent by Chinese dissidents. On at least three occasions, Yahoo’s decision to cooperate with Chinese authorities played an instrumental role in the jailing of dissidents, according to Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontièrs (Reporters Without Borders). Google actively censors results of searches conducted in China and has also removed sites offensive to the Chinese government from Google News. Microsoft actively censors blogs on the Chinese version of MSN spaces to filter out words such as "democracy" and "human rights." The three companies have been criticized by Amnesty International (among others) for capitulating to China’s censorship demands. In a report issued by the group last summer, Amnesty said that the companies could legitimately resist Chinese government demands due to what it describes as vague and often contradictory Chinese laws while undermining their arguments that engaging with China will nudge the country towards openness and emocracy. All three companies have also been hauled in front of Congressional committees, with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) telling company representatives that their "abhorrent activities in China" were disgraceful. Acting in an ethical manner Once completed, the code of conduct will consist of a set of principles to direct corporate conduct when dealing with repressive regimes and other situations that "interfere with the achievement of human rights," according to a statement from the CDT. There will also be a framework for implementing the principles and, more importantly, for holding companies that agree to the code of conduct accountable for breaches. "Technology companies have played a vital role building the economy and providing tools important for democratic reform in developing countries. But many governments have found ways to turn technology against their citizens—monitoring legitimate online activities and censoring democratic material," said CDT Executive Director Leslie Harris. "It is vital that we identify solutions that preserve the enormous democratic value provided by technological development, while at the same time protecting the human rights and civil liberties of those who stand to benefit from that expansion." The code will set limits in two ways. First, it allows companies to put a positive spin on their dealings to the public. Signatories will be able to advertise their agreement and compliance with the code of conduct, which may help them to score points with some constituencies. Second, it gives them guidance in their corporate dealings, so that they are assured that other companies—including competitors, in some cases—that have signed on to the code of conduct are acting in the same manner that they are. Doing business in countries where freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other rights that many of us take for granted are limited or nonexistent means that companies are sometimes forced to act in ways they feel are repugnant. Google cofounder Sergey Brin admitted as much last year when he said that his company’s decision to set up shop in China forced them to compromise its principles. Calling the Chinese government’s mandates "a set of rules that we weren’t comfortable with," Brin said that Google may ultimately leave that market. As the Internet’s reach truly spreads worldwide, so will the reach of giant tech companies. More importantly, scenarios such as those we have seen played out in China over the past few years will become more commonplace. The code of conduct will give guidance to its signatories for how they should behave in China and other countries where governments exercise a high degree of control over the media. But what is going to happen the first time a repressive government leans on one of the signatories to turn over information on one of its citizens?

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Launch title subsidies and more: David Jaffe interviewed 1up has just interviewed God of War mastermind David Jaffe, and I think it's a must-watch video. You can read a little bit of the interview, but catch the video for the entire thing. I was just thinking about what deals must be going on behind closed doors to get launch titles out the door with guaranteed lost sales on systems with a low installed base, and hearing David Jaffe talk about the money that must change hands is intriguing. Of course, David Jaffe has to use the "f-word" in there a few times, so be aware. There are some hardball questions, and Jaffe throws it back just as hard. While I disagree with many of the points, Jaffe puts forth the Sony gameplan in a way that's intelligent and makes a lot of sense for gamers. I've wondered before if Sony was ever going to find a good evangelist for their gaming platform, and I think David Jaffe might be a good choice. Not that he's very clean or safe for work in how he talks, but he loves games and loves the company he's with. It's also refreshing to hear points from Sony that put the company in a positive light and aren't the party line I've become accustomed to. Plus he bashes 1up's servers, and that's hilarious. My issues? I don't think that there needs to be an "iron curtain" between third-party and the first-party developers; you can bring third parties close in order to help them deliver the best games they can and still protect your IP. I think Microsoft understands the casual market very, very well with the 360. I also dislike how Jaffe brings up 1080p multiple times when there isn't a lot of 1080p content for the system yet. I do love his answer about the power of the 360: to paraphrase, he says that the PS3 is more powerful, that some people disagree, and that time will tell. It's worth your time, and I'm interested in what you think about the questions and answers.

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We pick the three best uses of design in game consoles I was flipping through our forums when I found this thread talking about the design of all the different gaming systems, and of course an argument ensued about which ones were the most attractive. I decided to weigh in with what I consider to the be the three best console designs, and to head off another argument, I'm not going to put them in order. First, I'm going to say that the 360 design bores me; the PS3 looks like a grill; the SNES was boxy and ugly; the DS looked like a makeup compact; and the DS Lite looks like it held more expensive makeup. The GameCube? It's a purple purse, for the love of Gygax! Even the black design or silver edition to come later didn't really save it. Console design, in my opinion, rarely produces anything that looks good. I LOVE the design of the PSP but it almost works against the system: it looks expensive, intimidating, and badass. Many people I show the system to are almost afraid to touch it; it's not that inviting. So what stands out? The PS2 mini. The first PS2 design looked like the exhaust port of a very cheap space ship. It looked and felt clunky, even at launch. The PS2 mini, however, was beautiful. The diminutive size and attractive button placement as well as solid construction made this a system that everyone marveled at and felt comfortable handling. This is still one of the favorite consoles in my collection. Even today it can elicit gasps from people who have never seen one; it's hard to look at without wanting to go into a store to buy one. This is one of those consoles that can sell almost on design. When people marvel at Nintendo's ability to get people to purchase systems over and over for new colors they seem to forget how many people traded in their old and busted PS2 systems for this slimmed-down beauty. The GameBoy Advance SP: The GameBoy Advance was a good system that needed a light and a better screen. When the GameBoy Advance SP was released in 2003 for $100 the additions were great: a flip-top design, solid buttons, a backlit screen, and of course the system would come out in every color under the sun. In 2004 the price dropped to $80, making it almost an impulse buy for many gamers. To this day I'll often see the SP in the hands of businessmen catching up on their Pokemon skills while flying. Okay, they're probably not playing Pokemon, but still. In the first season of House you could often see Dr. House himself playing Metroid on his SP. This system continues to sell incredibly well, and looks great without being off-putting. One of my favorite portables of all time. The Nintendo Wii: This is probably going to get the most comments; the Wii is basically just a tiny white box. But when you put it next to the huge, chugging bodies of the 360 and PS3, a tiny white box is a refreshing change. This is a next-gen console that is easy to set up, and again it invites people to come play with it; the lack of scariness is a huge selling point for casual gamers. Not to mention the box does a lot: you have to hook it up to the television, a power supply, the sensor bar, a memory stick, a GC memory card, and four GameCube controllers. The fact that it does all this without breaking up those clean, white lines is impressive. It's tiny, unobtrusive, and beautiful. I'm not going to say that the design of the console has had an impact on sales numbers, but I will say it hasn't hurt them: if you look at the other systems and then the Wii, which would you want in your house? To quote our own IceStorm: "They look like TV dinner-sized iPods." I'm going to point out that I picked these based solely on how they look and feel, not on the games they play or the other relative merits of the console experience. Now, how much do you care about design?

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Jobs ’08? Some wish it were true. There is very little doubt in my mind that The Steve could sell just about anything to just about anyone given a few minutes alone with them and a black mock turtleneck. Just imagine if he had one hand on the "button." Yesterday on Fox News, Jason Wright, the editor of PoliticalDerby.com, was brought on to talk about the three leading horses in the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominee races and added his two cents on the dream dream horse for each party. For the Republicans the dream horse was no other then Colin Powell, and for the Democrats? I was a little surprised: Let me tell you. Steve Jobs, I mean this guy he's a renowned problem solver. He's an innovator. He's known throughout the world for bringing people together, for turning the ship around so to speak. He goes on to imagine how cool the gadgets Jack Bauer would carry around under a Jobs administration, the commentator comes out with "the iUzzi." Oh, my Fox news commentator, how clever of you. Although I can't see Jobs running for any office, many people agree that he has many of the qualities that make a good commander in chief. In 2005 Jobs was named by the US News and World Report as one of America's Best Leaders and seems to be highly regarded as a CEO. He might have the qualities. but would American masses buy it? Job's has a few things going against him: his open use of drugs in his younger years, the lack of a college degree, and his relatively short fuse. I'm not sure firing his Defense Secretary in an elevator for looking at him wrong or hurling a digital camera at a member of the White House press corps would go over so well. You have to wonder if a "President Jobs" would let Woz crash in the Lincoln bedroom and play Segway polo in the Rose Garden. Of course we should point out that there is absolutely no indication that Jobs would EVER consider running for any office, but one still must wonder: who would be his running mate?

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Blitz: The League refused rating in Australia Here's the thing about the ratings board in Australia: there is no rating for 15+ when it comes to video games. Kind of lame, right? If the game looks like it would be too harmful for fifteen year-olds, it's refused classification and thus banned from sale in Australian stores. That doesn't mean people can't get the game, it just becomes trickier. I'm not going to argue about whether or not adults should be able to choose what they can and can't see, that's a much larger issue, but this would annoy me greatly if I lived in Australia. The newest game to be banned? Midway's Blitz: The League. Apparently the game promotes drug use. "While the game player can choose not to use the drugs, in the Board's majority view there is an incentive to use them," said a statement from the OFLC. "By using them judiciously, the player can improve the performance of the football team (while managing the negative effects) and have a better chance of winning games, thereby winning bets and climbing the league table," said the Board. It's true, you can juice your players to get their stats up or to help them recover quicker after an injury. Seriously, though, at this stage in professional sports Madden should add that feature to make the game a true simulation. In that same write-up, it's mentioned that Australia didn't get Marc Ecko's Getting Up, so maybe they are protecting the populace. I disagree with most censorship, but this seems like an especially silly rating. The game has bad language, drug use, and use of prostitutes. This stuff is shocking if you're 13 maybe, but not to anyone else.

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