A website standard that is affordable to the poorest demographics in developing countries?

post by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T13:43:22.923Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 58 comments

Fact: the Internet is excruciatingly slow in many developing countries, especially outside of the big cities.

Fact: today's websites are designed in such a way that they become practically impossible to navigate with connections in the order of, say, 512kps. Ram below 4GB and a 7-year old CPU are also a guarantee of a terrible experience.

Fact: operating systems are usually designed in such an obsolescence-inducing way as well.

Fact: the Internet is a massive source of free-flowing information and a medium of fast, cheap communication and networking.

Conclusion: lots of humans in the developing world are missing out on the benefits of a technology that could be amazingly empowering and enlightening.

I just came across this: what would the internet 2.0 have looked like in the 1980s. This threw me back to my first forays in Linux's command shell and how enamoured I became with its responsiveness and customizability. Back then my laptop had very little autonomy, and very few classrooms had plugs, but by switching to pure command mode I could spend the entire day at school taking notes (in LaTeX) without running out. But I switched back to the GUI environment as soon as I got the chance, because navigating the internet on the likes of Lynx is a pain in the neck.

As it turns out, I'm currently going through a course on energy distribution in isolated rural areas in developing countries. It's quite a fascinating topic, because of the very tight resource margins, the dramatic impact of societal considerations, and the need to tailor the technology to the existing natural renewable resources. And yet, there's actually a profit to be made investing in these projects; if managed properly, it's win-win.

And I was thinking that, after bringing them electricity and drinkable water, it might make sense to apply a similar cost-optimizing, shoestring-budget mentality to the Internet. We already have mobile apps and mobile web standards which are built with the mindset of "let's make this smartphone's battery last as long as possible".

Even then, (well-to-do, smartphone-buying) thrid-worlders are somewhat neglected: Samsung and the like have special chains of cheap Android smartphones for Africa and the Middle East. I used to own one; "this cool app that you want to try out is not available for use on this system" were a misery I had to get used to. 

It doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to do the same thing for outdated desktops. I've been in cybercafés in North Africa that still employ IBM Aptiva machines, mechanical keyboard and all—with a Linux operating system, though. Heck, I've seen town "pubs", way up in the hills, where the NES was still a big deal among the kids, not to mention old arcades—Guile's theme goes everywhere.

The logical thing to do would be to adapt a system that's less CPU intensive, mostly by toning down the graphics. A bare-bones, low-bandwith internet that would let kids worldwide read wikipedia, or classic literature, and even write fiction (by them, for them), that would let nationwide groups tweet to each other in real time, that would let people discuss projects and thoughts, converse and play, and do all of those amazing things you can do on the Internet, on a very, very tight budget, with very, very limited means. Internet is supposed to make knowledge and information free and universal. But there's an entry-level cost that most humans can't afford. I think we need to bridge that. What do you guys think?

 

 

58 comments

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comment by Punoxysm · 2014-11-01T18:49:58.705Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

People are way ahead of you on this. For instance, Facebook Zero is Facebook's Potatophone-friendly site. It's text only and conserves data.

People are also trying to improve phone service and models in the developing world, and this has been pretty successful.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-01T20:18:19.670Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's also structured in a way that facebook pays the mobile carries for the bandwidth.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T22:35:28.141Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How does that work?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T20:01:48.274Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm glad to hear that. But it'd be nice if the efforts were more widespread. (Weird that I can't use access it from my PC though).

Can you point to other concrete projects?

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2014-11-02T04:24:19.794Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's also Wikipedia Zero

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T11:41:55.836Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones of Chile ruled that zero-rating services like Wikipedia Zero, Facebook Zero, and Google Free Zone, that subsidize mobile data usage, violate net neutrality laws and had to end the practice by June 1, 2014.

Wait, what?

David Meyer expresses a similar conviction in GigaOm, writing, “Broadly, though, it has the makings of a strategic disaster, stopping Facebook (and any other social network or messaging service) from entrenching itself in the mobile market in an unassailable way. And in the long term, for consumers, that is a very good thing indeed.”

Oh. Interesting.

comment by hawkice · 2014-11-02T12:55:09.416Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The zero-rating mentioned is where the carriers don't charge customers for the data access to those services. This is commonly advertised in these countries along with the cell phone service ("Free Facebook!" pops up a lot in the Philippines, where people often sell sim cards on the street and many small general stores recharge cell phone plans -- adding some marginal pesos to your cell phone is often a pain). Pretty transparently not net neutrality, although if you are moving them from can't-afford-any-sites to can-only-afford-facebook, it's hard to see that as a bad thing, at least when you isolate it from the game theory / market capture elements, which are potent.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-11-01T17:14:20.931Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For some sites, text-based client apps may be a feasible alternative to Web browsers — but the same restrictions that sites use to deter spambots also make it hard to write text-based client programs that can post.

To find out how hard this would be, I just spent a little while investigating Twitter's APIs, which I've never used before.

A program to fetch and display a user's public Twitter posts is literally seven lines of Python; the hardest part of it is getting credentials from Twitter. Twitter requires that each client program have an "API secret" which is not supposed to be divulged to the user. Any given API secret is restricted in how many queries it can send, so if you share the same secret to everyone who uses your code base, it'll stop working. (Unless you pay Twitter, I suppose.)

This pretty much means that you can't hand everyone a Python script that lets them use Twitter from the command line; at minimum, each user would have to go on the Twitter API web site (logging in with a conventional browser) to get an API secret, then edit the script.

For posting or editing, Web APIs often require some sort of verification other than a username and password — such as a captcha answer, which depends on graphics. In the Twitter case, they won't let an account post via the API without an associated mobile phone number.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-11-10T02:07:53.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever happens when the user logs into twitter with a conventional browser to get an api key is something you could do in your script.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-11-10T02:16:38.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is very close to what I work on full time at Google. I work on pagespeed which is open source, but the old [website mobilizer] (http://www.google.com/gwt/n) might be closer to what you're thinking of.

I'm happy to answer questions about these or about how workable various ideas are.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-11-07T10:02:10.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These problems frequently need to be tackled from multiple angles.

I recently heard about a company called Endaga who have come up with a single box that you just plug in to the power and an internet connection, and it creates a small-scale “cellular” i.e. mobile network, which then makes VoIP calls to the outside world. They’ve based it on OpenBTS, and they’re selling it at just $10k, with Endaga taking care of almost all configuration, interconnect, etc. They’re pitching this at rural areas in the third world where mobile coverage is sparse or non-existent. Obligatory link.

Note: I have no connection with Endaga, etc.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-11-02T02:06:04.211Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You could start a company that parsed webpages (maybe using an API like this one) and/or use a cache in order to automatically transform webpages to make them less bandwidth-heavy, then serve the webpages to people in the developing world.

comment by Sarunas · 2014-11-03T13:34:35.757Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Opera Turbo seems related but I have never used it and thus can't tell if it is actually any good.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-11-01T20:42:25.457Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you identify particular problem web sites?

I'm guessing that the major web sites, particularly the ones devoted to disseminating scientific or academic information, have already got this covered.

Is Wikipedia a problem? I doubt it. Google. Pubmed. xarchiv. I'd guess that Khan Academy is already on top of this issue as well.

Access with a tablet or a smartphone, and you're fine.

It doesn't seem to be much of a stretch to do the same thing for outdated desktops.

If those kinds of internet cafes are the particular issue you're concerned about, I'd think that changing the browsers to mimic a mobile device would go a long way toward solving bandwidth issues.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T22:34:50.148Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing that the major web sites, particularly the ones devoted to disseminating scientific or academic information, have already got this covered.

Last time I was in Africa, google worked terribly, especially Gmail, Gdocs, and so on. You had to wait for a while before even being given the option of switching to the html version. And I had a legit wireless internet connection. 20$ a month, allegedly 2Mbps.

changing the browsers to mimic a mobile device would go a long way toward solving bandwidth issues.

Sounds like a great idea.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-11-01T23:06:25.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, you're talking about using web apps and such. I'd expect latency would be the biggest issue. Even so, I'm surprised about the load time issue you saw. But they have to load the library for the app, don't they? (Built into chrome?) Maybe a chrome versioning issue? Update issue? And you were using chrome, right?

Might be better to install android/chrome on the desktop and use the app from there.

And better still to use a native android/chromeOS device.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T23:16:40.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I use a Chromebook, man, and my phone is a Nexus. You can't get more chromey and googley than that.

Heck, sometimes the network gets crappy at my home, here in Spain, because of interference or because too many devices are anchored to the one router; even with a 50Mbps optic fibre connection, sometimes gmail will take five full minutes to load if I'm in my room. Networks can get slow anywhere.

I do believe that optimizing for low bandwidth and low CPU and RAM usage is universally useful. Slow-network problems can pop up anywhere. Plus, not everyone has the wealth to buy more than low-end machines.

It's just that the issue is exacerbated to the extreme in third-world countries, and one can't tell them "you should buy more expensive stuff" and "you should get more googley gear".

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-11-02T09:54:38.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

sometimes gmail will take five full minutes to load if I'm in my room.

On my 6 year old desktop, Gmail takes 5 seconds in chrome in my browser (which actually seemed kind of slow), and basically instantaneous on my nexus 5.

On my chrome book, it was a surprisingly horrible maybe 30 seconds on first load, and maybe 15 on subsequent loads. That is from the gmail link with chrome browser running, so it's bringing up the browser too.

So, gmail isn't the issue if you're waiting 5 minutes. Or maybe it's syncing all your email ever, and you have a lot more than I do? It's not my primary email.

The chrome web store has "gmail offline" which might be better for you? I find it annoying that it seems I always have to tell it whether or not to store email offline when I open it. But it opens quickly after that,

But it looks like the real trick for a chrome book is getting android apps to run. There are instructions on how to do this now. If you really need gmail, it might be worth it. In general, I think we'll have to just wait until Google works out android apps on chrome os.

But back to the overall point, I thought the issue was about information availability, and not really personal apps. Do you have a major information site that is a problem?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T11:33:35.120Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just reporting my own problems the way they happen.

But back to the overall point, I thought the issue was about information availability, and not really personal apps. Do you have a major information site that is a problem?

Pretty much any site that employs graphic ads or that is otherwise graphic-heavy; wikias, news sites, fora... even dictionaries like thesaurus.com, wordreference, or leo.org can be a pain to load. The little menus that appear when one is making a search are especially sensitive to network lag. Thankfully there are offline, command-based equivalents to several of these dictionaries, but you have to look for them.

Plus, personal apps are extremely useful tools. To give just one simple example, why spend phone credit on calling or SMS when you can What's App? I'm sure we could come up with several app ideas that would have excellent time-saving or resource-saving capacities... and, once they learn how to code, who knows what the local whiz kids might come up with?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-11-02T22:20:51.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you running ad block? That might help with the graphic ad loads.

Again, I'd guess it's latency and not speed that's causing you problems with menus. Looks like interaction is the issue, not bulk data download. For general browsing, I don't know that you can do much about latency, but for particular apps. sites, if they've got an android app, you use it.

Seems like android apps are much better about all that stuff, and they'll be more generally available for chrome os soon, and I see some windows methods for this as well.

There are serious and well funded grownups working on this at Google.

Interesting to hear about the issues, though. You encouraged me to test out the chrome book I'm working on for my mother. Still slow by my standards, but I think it will be fine for her.

comment by passive_fist · 2014-11-03T21:00:14.730Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with Ritalin, and I suggest you try the internet in developing countries firsthand to get a taste of what it's like. It doesn't have anything to do with the browser version.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-11-03T21:25:47.201Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Experiencing poor internet speeds isn't high on my list of reasons to take a trip.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-01T14:39:25.874Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given how things in the third world look desktop doesn't seem to be the prime way to access the internet. Smartphones are much more promising.

If you don't have the bandwidth for images it's already possible to shut them down. You can use Wikipedia on low bandwidth.

As far as reading classical literature I doubt that the average child in North Africa has a desire to read classical literature. That child likely has a lot more pressing needs. It likely wouldn't even have the idea in the first place.

Internet is not only about technology but also a lot about culture. You can't simply look at what's nice for Westerners and then believe that the same thing will work in North Africa.

Using cell phone minutes as currency is for example an important feature in some countries with don't have good banking systems. In the West we don't use the technology that way.

It's possible that someone manages to program a Ripple based system that works better than trading cell phone minutes but that's not trival.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T16:09:44.068Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think of this as "what would be nice for Westerners", I think of this as "what would have been nice for me, back when I was a kid, if I had known what I was missing out on". I may not know what the specific social norms or economic circusmtances of people from even a few hunderd km away from my hometown were (tribes in my country are insular like that), but I think I have a pretty firm grasp on what young nerds have always wanted throughout history and regardless of the culture they were born in, whenever they were given the chance.

(To give an example: If you took a bunch of normal people and gave them too much free time and wealth, and gathered them at a party, you woudn't get Plato's Symposium. You'd get the sort of lame party that's described in The Great Gatsby. Regardless of specific cultural or economical circumstances, It takes a special kind of mind to have a blast making stories up and speculating on the cosmos the way those folks had, and then to go and write that stuff down. And that special kind of mind pops up every where, and every time, as soon as you give them the chance to bloom. If you give them no resources whatsoever, they'll still go and, say, make up an epic poem or a creation myth or whatever. Minds that blaze will find something to burn, given even the slightest chance.)

We want to learn stuff, we want to read books, we want to talk about the books we read, we want to spin our own stories. We want to learn skills, build things, dream about distant lands and eras. We want to speculate about the meaning of life, and ask "why" at stuff until the whys run out.

We see the society we're in, the way people live, and some of it doesn't make sense, and some of it doesn't seem fair, and we want to do something about it, improve stuff, solve problems, or at least understand why things are the way they are. There's only so much we can get out of reading the Qur'an or asking our elders. Eventually we feel the need to ask further questions. And we want a space to discuss them with other people who care, other people like us.

Whenever EY references classic sci-fi literature, I feel envious because before I went to study in Europe I had only been able to get my hands on a couple of Asimov and Radbury books, despite how much I relished the stuff.

Plus, if we're the one clever boy in the village (heck, the one anything in the village), it's alienating, isolating. Why am I different? What's wrong with me? The Internet can help you find that you're not alone. That, no matter how unique your tastes or ideas or experiences, there are thousands, millions out there, who thought like you. This might be especially relieving to LGBT folks, and to people who aren't satisfied with their assigned roles in life (such as gender roles in sexist societies).

It also opens your opportunities. Again, the clever boy would become, say, the Witchdoctor's (or Curate's, or Imam's) apprentice, because that's what you were expected to do.

With the Internet, you don't need to move to the big city to get a good education, leaving your family alone, perhaps draining them dry. Your town school doesn't need to buy the books to make up a decent library. Heck, you may even not need to walk ten kilometers in the wilderness at the crack of dawn every morning just to go to the underpaid, ignorant schoolmaster's tiny classroom (who may or may not spare the rod).

But the Internet isn't just a path to bringing the Gospel of Western Civilization down to the poor isolated folksies. It's also a way for the folksies to communicate with each other, to gain visibility, to speak up for themselves, to tell their own stories in their own words, to document themselves.

The Internet is a tool of self-empowerment. And I believe it should be a human right, as much as clean water, warm homes, and lighting at night.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-01T20:00:24.441Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A Western kid has a lot more unscheduled free time than a kid in a town that lives on average on 1$ per day. It has already learnt reading and writing in school. The kid also likely can't speak English.

Clever as in two standard derivation higher IQ as the others in the village might also mean IQ of 110 in that village instead of IQ of 130. IQ might very well be a biased metric and there might be cultural reasons for scoring low on the test but people with lower IQ while have a harder time to figure out how to use a command line interface of a computer to subscribe to some mailing list on which they want to chat.

The Internet is a tool of self-empowerment. And I believe it should be a human right, as much as clean water, warm homes, and lighting at night.

That's a quite interesting claim. Part of what the debate about a human right to clean water is about, is whether it's the job of the government and the government should regulate it.

Cell phones companies in Africa don't face much regulation which allowed them to give people who don't have access to electricity because of overregulation access to cell phone coverage.

Not regulating the sector and simply let those companies provide more services and trust that Moore's law makes computers cheaper might be more promising than to start to declare internet a human right and let it be subject to heavy regulation.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-07T00:20:37.655Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been giving some thought to your "official rights to X result in governments taking ineffectual measures that result in people not getting X". I think it can be argued that if the measures stop people from getting X, they are vulnerating people's rights to get X in the first place, and are therefore "illegal". Does that make sense?

I also consulted my brother on this, who actually studies Law. His answer amounted to a very harried "It's a fracking mess. only experts can 'sort of' make sense of it."

... A thought just occurred to me. Just thinking out loud here. Do "fundamental rights" matter in the same way that religious dogma does? I mean, do they operate in a similar way, in terms of their tangible consequences on people's daily lives? Ecclesiastical Law. International Law. The Vatican. The UN. Dogma. Inarguable principles. Doctrine. Rampant hypocrisy and yet immense respect and authority. Saint vs. Merchant interactions.

Maybe I'm missing a vital difference, but the more I'm thinking about this, the more there seems to be a parallel of sorts...

comment by alienist · 2014-12-13T08:56:36.839Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Fundamental rights work, and are consistent, as long as one sticks to the so called negative rights or "first generation" rights, e.g., free speech, right to life, right to no arrest without a fair trial, etc.

For example a negative "right to internet access" simply means that the government can't bad you from using the internet, i.e., laws like this would be a violation. Neither it, nor anyone else, is actually obliged to provide you with a computer or any kind of ISP.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-01T23:06:21.308Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

whether it's the job of the government and the government should regulate it

There are many ways to abuse and hurt your clients when you are a private business (especially a big, powerful one versus small, isolated, impoverished populations), but this is also true of a corrupt, uncaring, incompetent or oppressive government. It is also true that there needs to be a normalized, systematic way of sorting these problems and right any wrongs that might arise, but, again, any sort of normative (legislative?), deliberative (judiciary?), and enforcing (executive) organization is liable to be, again, corrupt, uncaring, incompetent, oppressive, etc.

Debating these things in principle seems rather pointless. The correct answer is "whatever gets the job done". Saying "people have a right to X" is simply a lofty way of saying "it's very important and urgent that people get X".

What seems obvious is that it's not a matter of over-regulation or under-regulation (how does one quantify regulation anyway? what qualifies as "just regulated enough"?), but rather of well-thought-out regulation versus ill-conceived one. This is highly dependent on who's doing the regulating, their competence, the means at their disposal, what they actually want to optimize the regulations for (government empowerment? private profit? helping some specific clients, cronies, sponsors? impeding access to the service while appearing to provide it? there are so many possibilities of betrayal... the interests of the end users might not come up at all in their calculations), who gets to enforce the regulations and the means put at their disposal to do so, and so on and so forth.

to declare internet a human right and let it be subject to heavy regulation

That feels like a bit of a non-sequitur. Declaring that people are entitled to something results in people not getting that something?

people who don't have access to electricity because of overregulation

This also seems strange; all the cooperation projects I'm working on are NGO-based and the electricity is locally-generated, and often locally-owned. The reason the national electric network doesn't get there is that the villages are too distant and isolated, and the houses are too dispersed from each other, for the investment to be worthwhile.

How would deregulation help? By allowing thinner cables that employ less copper or aluminium? By letting cables hang lower? I'm genuinely curious.

At any rate, "regulation" of some sort and to some degree is inherent to the Internet. It's a world that lives and breathes protocols, standards, documentation, and proper procedure. There's also a lot of room for decentralization and improvisation, but there will always be a need for rules of some sort, whether the investors are private or public, foreign or local, big or small, if only as a reference point of what to do when something goes wrong.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-02T02:08:52.939Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Debating these things in principle seems rather pointless. The correct answer is "whatever gets the job done". Saying "people have a right to X" is simply a lofty way of saying "it's very important and urgent that people get X".

That's a very naive view. Laws matter. Legal rights matter.

Debating these things in principle seems rather pointless.

Given that we live in a world with laws, it matters what principles we write into our laws.

How would deregulation help? By allowing thinner cables that employ less copper or aluminium? By letting cables hang lower? I'm genuinely curious.

In many places there's regulation that fixes electricity prices. Those fixed prices reduce the profits that electricity companies make. When electricity companies make less profits they have less money to invest into broadening their subscriber base.

On the other hand the prices that cell phone companies can charge are not regulated in that way. A cell phone company can simply double it's prices if it wants to do so.

At any rate, "regulation" of some sort and to some degree is inherent to the Internet. It's a world that lives and breathes protocols, standards, documentation, and proper procedure.

At the heart of the internet is working anarchy. Different standards get proposed and some standards get adopted. ISO or the W3C have no power to enforce regulation.

If you look at the way this forum lists the time stamp of posts it violates the ISO standard. There are no sanctions for doing so.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T12:19:33.412Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In many places there's regulation that fixes electricity prices. Those fixed prices reduce the profits that electricity companies make. When electricity companies make less profits they have less money to invest into broadening their subscriber base. On the other hand the prices that cell phone companies can charge are not regulated in that way. A cell phone company can simply double it's prices if it wants to do so.

Mobile phone call prices doubling are pain in neck. Might force people to speak like telegram. Electricity prices doubling can absolutely wreck an economy. It might force businesses to close at nightfall, and it might put hospitals, and people's lives, in difficult situations. If the way prices are controlled stops the company from expanding (or otherwise fulfilling its social function), the regulation is 'inadequate', not 'excessive'. Anyway, why can't they take loans, make the locals investors, get subsidies...? All the things NGO's do.

Given that we live in a world with laws, it matters what principles we write into our laws. Laws matter. Legal rights matter.

The Spanish Constitution says every Spaniard has a right to housing/shelter, it being up to the government to decide what that means in practice. Evictions are most definitely still a thing, owners are allowed to keep perfectly viable apartments closed for the sake of maintaining prices, and, with a 24% unemployment rate (last I checked), families end up on the streets. When they try to illegally occupy said abandoned apartments, the police comes to evict them.

It also says that Freedom of Expression is guaranteed. One the one hand, it gets abused; streetwalkers have invoked that right to justify them walking "in uniform" in their designated areas, as if the way they dressed was a form of self-expression. Journalists and politicians employ it to liberally libel, slander and lie at their convenience. On the other hand, the usual police brutality problems when there are protests remain entrenched.

It also guarantees a Right to Honour and Private Life. Which is difficult to enforce at the best of times, but, in the age of the Internet, it seems laughable.

I could go on. Loftily-phrased rights matter, yes, but depending on who enforces them, on context and interested parties and circumstances, they might be meaningless, or might be abused. Principles are abused, bent, ignored, worked around, or outright violated, on a regular basis.

Legal rights only matter when they are written in concrete, clearly-worded ways, that let you know what you can do to make sure you get the thing you have a right to, and what guarantees are in place in case you don't get what you were promised. That the Consitution says I have a "Right to Life" is irrelevant if cops can Ferguson me for looking at them funny, or my health insurance can weasel out on paying for my treatment, leaving me to die. On the other hand, if the actual law guarantees that neither of these things can happen without serious consequences for the cops or the insurance respectively, and has the actual infrastructure to back this up, then yeah, that matters.

At any rate, the UN declared the Internet a human right in 2011, so, as far as they're concerned, it seems the debate is over and done with. It basically translates to "you can't cut the Internet on people just because you're at war or otherwise in trouble", apparently, rather than "you should get everyone some Internet access ASAP".

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-02T14:29:23.273Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mobile phone call prices doubling are pain in neck.

Yes. On the other hand that's the environment in which those cell phone companies flourished and provided a lot of people with cell phone coverage.

Interestingly a country like Chile banned Facebook Zero because of violation of net neutrality which is probably written in some "right to internet"-law.

At any rate, the UN declared the Internet a human right in 2011, so, as far as they're concerned, it seems the debate is over and done with.

No, one UN report said it's a human right. It was no decision of the general UN assembly or an international treaty. UN reports don't bind anybody.

We live in a world where the IMF and the WTO use their power to get countries to follow the Washington Consensus. That means deregulation, little subsidies and private ownership of infrastructure.

There are conflicts where a country wants to regulate something and the IMF says: "If you regulate this, you won't get anymore credits from us." If a country can say: "We have to regulate this, because our people have a right to X", that means that the IMF has no business blocking the regulation.

In that background the US and Europe block UN resolutions that call for a human right to water while African nations want such a right.

Lawsuits in Investor-State-Settlement disputes can be influenced by such rights.

Legal rights only matter when they are written in concrete, clearly-worded ways, that let you know what you can do to make sure you get the thing you have a right to, and what guarantees are in place in case you don't get what you were promised.

That's a naive view. In the real world laws have complex effects and often have effects even if the average person doesn't know how the law works. Just because a law doesn't do what you want it to do doesn't mean that the law has no effects.

Anyway, why can't they take loans, make the locals investors, get subsidies...? All the things NGO's do.

It seems like the process isn't efficient enough for businesses to invest substantial resources into it.

In general we have found in the West that profit driven-companies are often more effective at providing services as effectively as possible than NGO's.

The basic question is: "How much utility does a village get by having electricity? How much does it cost to provide electricity to the village?" If there no regulation and the village gets more utility than the cost there's a business opportunity. It's possible to make money by charging the inhabitants of the village a bit more money than it costs you to provide them with electricity.

Cell phone companies by en large operate on that model in the third world. Most electricity companies can't because they face more regulation.

The Spanish Constitution says every Spaniard has a right to housing/shelter, it being up to the government to decide what that means in practice.

Given that EU law doesn't allow anybody to simply subvention business having a law that provides a right to housing can give the Spanish government the right to provide subventioned housing to it's citizens. That matters. It matters whether or not something is up to your local government or isn't.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T14:54:22.644Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In general we have found in the West that profit driven-companies are often more effective at providing services as effectively as possible than NGO's.

[citation needed], but I'm willing to go with whatever works best for the end user in the long term.

And, again, it's not a matter of "more" regulation so much as it is one of badly-designed regulation that doesn't get the job done.

As for the "rights" discussion, I'm beginning to see where you're coming from. Rights are bizarre, rhetorical tools, bargaining chips in the economics of pricelessness and compromise. I'll admit, subtleties of this kind baffle me. As an engineer, I tend to think in more immediate terms, and, from the ground, all those words about rights sound like little more than well-wishing, and I use them as such.

At any rate, you seem to suggest that the fact that declaring things as rights giving States the power to defy the IMF and WTO's orders is a bad thing, which confuses me. Last time I heard, every country that attempted to apply the IMF's recommendations faced economic and social disaster; their ideas are reputedly naive at best and malicious at worst.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-11-09T07:07:56.234Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Rights are bizarre, rhetorical tools, bargaining chips in the economics of pricelessness and compromise.

No, rights are (or should be) based on time-tested ethical injunctions. Granted today there is an unfortunate tendency for bodies like the UN to invent (and "de-sanctify") rights at the drop of a hat. This is undesirable behavior and should be met with mockery and derision.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-10T01:05:05.287Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expound on that "time-tested ethical injunctions" thing? I understand the concepts separately, but not how they go together, nor how they relate to "rights" as in "La Déclaration des Droits de L'Homme et du Citoyen", the "Bill of Rights", or the "UN Declaration of Human Rights".

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-02T15:49:26.275Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At any rate, you seem to suggest that the fact that declaring things as rights giving States the power to defy the IMF and WTO's orders is a bad thing, which confuses me.

In general I'm able to speak about political matters and effects of policies without immediate judgement. When trying to understand complex political systems it helps to first focus on understanding and leave out judgements as good or bad.

The discussion about right to water is about roles of states and to what extend you have profit maximizing corporations in control of the water supply. It's a complex debate with good arguments on both sides. Policy debates shouldn't not appear one-sided.

When thinking about internet distribution the key question is whether the cell phone companies that currently provide it in Africa do enough to increase subscriber base. If you think they are doing a good job, then moving the responsibility for internet from markets to states isn't useful. If you believe that the cell phone companies are doing a poor job, then it makes a lot more sense to support ways to instead make states responsible for it.

In the EU I want to have strong net neutrality laws. I would appreciate EU legislation that makes me use my German mobile phone contract in France without roaming charges.

On the other hand I have no problem with lax net neutrality laws that would allow a service like facebook zero in Chile where facebook zero means that people who otherwise would have no access to internet at least have access to facebook.

On a further note third world countries often are corrupt which makes regulations less efficient than they could be in a perfect world. A Western company who invests wants to have some protection against the local government just coming in and forcing the Western company to provide their service for less money because the population has a right to that service.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T18:37:31.234Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  • 1 upvote.

Note, however, that first-world countries are often corrupt as well, the balance of powers is just different. And it's not just Western companies who invest, and who want to avoid the government getting in their way.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-02T18:51:17.199Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note, however, that first-world countries are often corrupt as well,

Yes. That's also on of the reasons why we in the EU don't simply let a city hand out subsidies to whatever company it wants. Having rules that forbid that on EU level means that a city officiel can't simply give the company of his friend huge subsidies.

If the city buys something they can't simply go to one company and make a secret deal but they have to accept proposals from a lot of companies for the contract.

Less power means that they can't do as much harm through corruption. When you however start given the city the task to hand out subsidies to see that flats get build because everyone has a right to housing, there's more opportunity for corruption.

And it's not just Western companies who invest, and who want to avoid the government getting in their way.

Yes, I think a bunch of those third world cell phone companies are even domestic.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-11-04T04:55:54.707Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Last time I heard, every country that attempted to apply the IMF's recommendations faced economic and social disaster; their ideas are reputedly naive at best and malicious at worst.

Well India is the standard IMF success story.

Ok, now your turn: can you provide an example of a country where applying IMF recommendations resulted in more "economic and social disaster" then the country was already in before the IMF got involved.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-05T00:06:52.580Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a quick-and-dirty first things I found. Checking out peer-reviewed papers and other primary sources will take me a little more time.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-11-06T06:40:03.927Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well none of those links contain examples of "economic and social disaster". The closest think to a concrete country that I could find in them was Greece. And even there the IMF/EU bailout did help, if only in a "kick the can down the road" kind of way. If any thing, from what I heard the problem in Greece is that the IMF wasn't insistent enough on structural reforms, instead going for a tax-increase heavy "austerity".

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-02T20:11:03.398Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Rights are bizarre, rhetorical tools, bargaining chips in the economics of pricelessness and compromise.

If there are no rights, there is not need for compromises or negotiation -- the bigger stick always wins. Why should I trade with you if I can just take?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-03T08:42:49.604Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Because that would lead to mistrust, isolation, fortification, violent conflict, instability, etc., which will end up in less good stuff being made overall, and in less chances of me getting what is made. Enlightened self-interest dictates that fair trade is the best option in the long run.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-03T17:27:52.570Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In a world without rights, you can have your enlightened self-interest and I'll take the big stick (along with all your stuff) :-D

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-05T00:00:07.428Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Who says that just because I refrain from taking everything by force, that I don't carry a bigger stick than yours? I just happen to speak softly.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-05T01:11:27.762Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That wasn't your argument two posts up :-) You said that enlightened self-interest should win implying that the size of the stick is immaterial. Did you change your mind?

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-05T08:58:24.510Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I did not. The implication isn't that the size of the stick is immaterial, but that sticks, like swords, are for having, not using. Once you draw your stick, you don't have many options and they're all bad ones. This is especially true in cases of Mutually Assured Destruction, where both agents are very careful not to wrong each other, because they both know and respect each other's destructive power.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-05T16:29:40.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

sticks, like swords, are for having, not using.

We disagree about that :-) I think that swords and sticks are precisely for using and if you don't think so I'll be happy to use mine while you're still thinking whether it's OK to draw it :-/

cases of Mutually Assured Destruction

Cases of MAD are very rare in real life.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-05T21:41:32.179Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Obviously if I see you draw your sword I will draw mine. The point of having a sword in the first place, however, is that you dare not put us both in a situation where you might die.

Cases of MAD (or at least MRD) are extremely common in Real Life. They're the reason adults stop using violence in the extensive way they used to as children; even a simple fistfight is liable to end in death for one of the fighters. And that's not withstanding any Leviathan that make it suicidal to shoot first, second, or ever.

And will you stop it with the smiley faces? It doesn't add anything to your argument and it comes of as cheeky, which is to say, self-satisfiedly disrespectful.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-05T22:40:17.972Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hey, lookit that, something I've actually studied!

For most of recent Western history, wearing a sword casually (i.e. not as part of paid employment) was primarily a status marker: it said you were part of the aristocratic class, someone with interests and an honor that you could, in theory, be expected to defend. Toward the end of the early modern period swords began to be replaced with walking sticks in this role, but the idea was the same: you were carrying a weapon because that's what gentry were originally for.

This didn't necessarily mean you were expected to shank people on a regular basis, though. The amount of actual swordplay involved varied wildly between cultures and times: sometimes swords were essentially male jewelry, sometimes practical dueling weapons that everyone in your social circle would have been trained with and weren't too unlikely to have used in anger, sometimes something in between. Note too that the existence of a code duello or the equivalent didn't necessarily mean it was in common use or had a lot of etiquette built up around it.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-06T21:53:14.285Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anger is indeed the kind of situation where caution and forethought stand a good chance of being thrown to the wind. Which is allegedly why in Open Carry towns people are remarkably polite and civil to each other.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-11-06T22:28:54.588Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Used in anger", as applied to weapons, is idiomatic; it means use with the intent to cause serious harm (i.e. in war or a duel or brawl), regardless of the emotional state of the bearer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm generally for weapons rights. But the point I was trying to make is that weapons intersect with culture in ways that can't easily be summed up by phrases like "an armed society is a polite society". Sometimes the norms of your subculture demand that they not be used in most conceivable circumstances, and so they generally aren't and their cultural role tends to atrophy. Sometimes those norms demand that they be used in response to perceived slights, which tends not to produce a polite society as we understand the term but rather one excessively concerned with honor, and where skill with weapons affords you a lot of social power through various knock-on effects. If you're interested in leveraging arms as a means of decentralized social control you'd probably be shooting for something in between, but judging from history that's a relatively small target.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-07T00:04:12.032Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh. One of those idioms, like when knights say they got into a duel because of philosophical differences. Well, I think my point still stands, that anger is the "bluff" that makes weapons function as deterrent. "No one in their right mind would initiate violence over a small slight; it's not worth the trouble. But maybe I'm wrathful enough that I'll do it anyway. Do you want to take that chance?" I understand that MAD functioned under a similar framework, of pretending very hard that your country might be just "crazy" enough to launch a first strike, and made a point of being very first-strike-capable.

As for the rest, I already know that truth resists simplicity. I find all of this very confusing, and lots of nuances elude me, but I haven't given up on understanding it all yet. I can't possibly be satisfied with the way things are presented on their face.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-05T22:07:00.103Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Cases of MAD (or at least MRD) are extremely common in Real Life.

Mutually Assured Destruction is extremely common? We live in different worlds (or you're confusing MAD with "there will be consequences").

it comes of as cheeky

That is correct. I am cheeky :-P

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-06T21:50:10.598Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Point is, adult people can kill each other even with a slap to the face. A simple fight can leave you with wounds that will cripple you for life. Not to mention possible mental and social consequences. Violence is a crapshoot.

But, yeah, it's a huge overstatement; there's a mutual assurance of destruction, there's just a risk, and by "destruction" I mean "consequences that you cannot afford"/"it will ruin your life" rather than "your body will be annihilated into non-existence".

Well, stop it. I handle harsh criticism well as long as it's fair, but I'm no good at dealing with teasing, mockery and facetiousness. That kind of stuff really trips me up.

Point is, yeah, taking stuff away by force is easy if you've got force on your side, but there's a mountain of reasons both small and big, both rational and not, that securing consent and consensus is more practical in the long term.

Even Genghis Khan understood that it was better to tax the Chinese cities as a renewable resource than to destroy them, kill everyone, and turn everything into pasture. Although it took some persuading; the man had momentum.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-11-06T22:03:03.006Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, stop it. I handle harsh criticism well as long as it's fair, but I'm no good at dealing with teasing, mockery and facetiousness.

It's you who decides on the fairness, though, right?

OK. If you want plain and simple, I can try to do plain and simple. This whole subthread started with you saying

Rights are bizarre, rhetorical tools, bargaining chips in the economics of pricelessness and compromise.

This is utter nonsense.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-06T23:40:54.357Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That is hardly 'plain and simple'; in fact, it is ambiguous. Do you mean "I cannot discern a meaning to this sentence" or "I understand this sentence, and I evaluate it to be false"?

As for "fair criticism", try for something that, if it were said to you in that position, you would reply to it with a 'fair enough'/'you make a good point'.

comment by brazil84 · 2014-11-02T15:31:33.496Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's good to know that you care so much about people in the Third World. Congratulations on your moral excellence.

comment by Ritalin · 2014-11-02T16:48:20.430Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Moral excellence is rationality. I haven't won yet; don't congratulate me on unfulfilled pretensions.