Thirty-two years ago, on June 4, 1989, Chinese troops killed and arrested thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, putting an end to demonstrations that began that April.
Microsoft’s Bing has no memory of an iconic moment from that time: there’s no record of Tank Man – the lone protester who faced down a column of tanks – in Bing’s image search index.
The Tank Man … A Beijing demonstrator blocks the path of an armored convoy along the Avenue of Eternal Peace near Tiananmen Square in June 1989
At the time this article was written today, searching for “tank man” in Bing Images (Safe Search off, with or without quotes) here in the United States of America returned this response:
“This is due to an accidental human error and we are actively working to resolve this,” a Microsoft spokesperson told The Register.
Curiously DuckDuckGo Images (Safe Search off), which relies on Bing for its search index, also had no memory of the event when asked about “tank man.”
Nor did Ecosia’s Image search, another Bing-powered search service that promises to plant trees and proclaims, “We stand for a better internet.” Well, not today:
Yahoo Search and AOL Search, both of which rely on Microsoft’s Bing, had similar memory problems.
While the situation is the same for China’s Baidu search engine, as might be expected, the query “tank man” does return the famous scene using image search with Google and Yandex.
One of the most widely recognized photographs of the Tank Man was taken on June 5, 1989 by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener from a balcony overlooking Tiananmen Square. A 1990 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in the category Spot News Photography, it became one of the most memorable news photos of the 20th Century.
When the image first went out over the wires, the AP caption read:
The identity of the man and his fate remain uncertain, except presumably to Chinese authorities, his family, and friends. British tabloid the Sunday Express identified him as “Wang Weilin” (王维林), a 19-year-old student. While that has not been corroborated, the name has been blocked during Tiananmen Square-related censorship efforts.
Within China, the image appears to be largely unknown, thanks to government censorship. On the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings, a BBC news crew showed people in China the image, stored on a laptop because it’s not readily available online there, and asked whether they’d seen it before. About 80 per cent of those asked said they hadn’t seen it, though if some of these individuals had, they might be disinclined to say so for fear of consequences.
Chinese authorities have traditionally stepped up censorship whenever the anniversary of June 4, 1989 rolls around, blocking words like “tank” (坦克) on social media platforms. In Hong Kong, police arrested pro-democracy activist Chow Hang Tung, who runs the organization that holds vigils in remembrance of the Tienanmen Square protests.
Recently, Variety reported that users of social media service Douban received notice that their accounts would be muted – ie, no posts – for four days, starting June 2, 2021. The report also said that the online game World of Tanks announced on its Weibo account that its chat service would be down for maintenance until June 8.
The Register asked DuckDuckGo for its side of this story. We’ve not heard back.
Just as this article was about to be published, we saw that at least one photo of the Tank Man can be seen in Bing search results again albeit not very prominently.
In a statement on Thursday commemorating the June 4th, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said:
“The courage of the brave individuals who stood shoulder-to-shoulder on June 4 reminds us that we must never stop seeking transparency on the events of that day, including a full accounting of all those killed, detained, or missing.” ®
Linus Torvalds has revealed that winding back the decision to default to -Werror – and therefore make all warnings into errors – has made for another messy week of work on the Linux kernel.
“So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week trying to sort out all the odd warnings, and I want to particularly thank Guenter Roeck for his work on tracking where the build failures due to -Werror come from,” Torvalds wrote in his weekly missive about the state of kernel development.
“Is it done?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But on the whole I’m feeling fairly good about this all, even if it has meant that I’ve been looking at some really odd and grotty code. Who knew I’d still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years? A slight change of pace ;)”
Torvalds expressed his annoyance that his efforts have seen him enter “fix one odd corner case, three others rear their ugly heads” territory.
But he’s willing to wear the pain. “I remain convinced that it’s all for a good cause, and that we really do want to have a clean build even for the crazy odd cases,” he wrote.
And if he must handle this sort of thing in any week of the kernel production cycle, it might as well be the week of rc2.
“I hope this release will turn more normal soon – but the rc2 week tends to be fairly quiet for me, so the fact that I then ended up looking at reports of odd warnings-turned-errors this week wasn’t too bad,” he wrote.
Late last week, Torvalds also took some time to share what he described as “the true 30th anniversary date” of Linux.
On September 17th he wrote “a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.
“Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that,” he wrote. “The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.
“Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.”
So The Register though it worthy of mention, too. ®
Research from Trinity College Dublin and workspace network NoCo identified time-saving benefits for workers as well as environmental benefits.
Remote working three days per week could save drivers up to 14 days of commuting time a year. That’s according to a study carried out by researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and hybrid workspace company NoCo.
More than 540 people were surveyed about their commuting habits to ascertain how long people spent travelling to and from their workplaces and examine the environmental impact of these commutes.
Remote working three days a week for a year could reduce a drivers CO2 emissions by 670kg, the research found. Public transport users, meanwhile, could save almost 11 days of commuting time by working remotely three days a week.
Irish-owned Noco has been expanding its workspace network around Ireland, aiming to tap into the rise in remote and hybrid working. It currently has hubs in 350 locations nationwide, as well as an online service that enables companies to connect their team to a network of ‘close to home’ workspaces across Ireland.
“The slowdown of economic activities during the pandemic resulted in significant improvements to air quality and GHG emissions. At NoCo, we are preparing for the future which means addressing climate change,” said Brian Moran, co-founder of NoCo.
“None of us can afford to ignore our carbon footprints anymore and we believe that the shift to remote working will help to meet Ireland’s national carbon targets, as well as provide people with reduced commuting time and a better work-life balance.”
An extra lie-in in the mornings was another benefit of working remotely or working from home, according to survey respondents. When travelling to an office, 59pc of people said they left home before 7:30am. When travelling to a remote location, 76pc left after 7:30am.
Almost half of the respondents (49pc) said they would consider buying an e-bike for their commute to a local remote working hub and 14pc said they would consider buying a push bicycle.
A small number of people (15pc) said they were considering selling their car as a result of Ireland’s post-pandemic remote and hybrid work dynamic. The majority (80pc) said they believed it would be possible for their employer to implement a hybrid work scheme in the near future.
Prof Brian Caulfield from the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at TCD said the research shows remote working hubs may play “an even more substantial role than we thought” in reducing carbon emissions from commuting.
“From a personal-time perspective, the findings of the survey demonstrate that remote workers are able to spend significantly more time at home and substantially less time commuting,” he added.
There were, however, some negative aspects to the new remote and hybrid work culture, according to participants.
Around 78pc of people said they experienced feelings of isolation as a result of working from home, while 85pc experienced Wi-Fi and general connectivity issues and 84pc experienced problems with inadequate home office space or equipment.
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When she first began talking to her peers in the House of Lords about the rights of children on the internet, Baroness Kidron says she looked like “a naysayer”, like someone who was “trying to talk about wooden toys” or, in her husband’s words, like “one middle-aged woman against Silicon Valley”. It was 2012 and the film-maker and recently appointed life peer was working on her documentary InRealLife, spending “hundreds of hours in the bedrooms of children” to discover how the internet affects young lives. What she saw disturbed her.
“I did what they were doing – gaming, falling in love, watching pornography, going to meet-ups, making music – you name it, it happened,” Beeban Kidron says. The film explored everything from children’s exposure to porn, to rampant online bullying, to the way privacy is compromised online. But Kidron noticed that one thing underpinned it all: on the internet, nobody knows you’re a kid. “Digital services and products were treating them as if they were equal,” she says. “The outcome of treating everyone equally is you treat a kid like an adult.”
Almost a decade later, Kidron has pushed through a Children’s Code that hopes to change this landscape for ever. The Age Appropriate Design Code, an amendment to the 2018 Data Protection Act, came into effect this month. It requires online services to “put the best interests of the child first” when designing apps, games, websites and internet-connected toys that are “likely” to be used by kids.
In total, there are 15 standards that companies need to adhere to in order to avoid being fined up to 4% of their global turnover. These include offering “bite-size” terms and conditions for children; giving them “high privacy” by default; turning off geolocation and profiling; and avoiding “nudge techniques” that encourage children to turn off privacy settings. The code, which will be enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), also advises against “using personal data in a way that incentivises children to stay engaged”, such as feeding children a long string of auto-playing videos one after the other.
The code was introduced in September 2020, but offered companies a 12-month transition period, in this time the world’s tech giants have seemingly begun responding to the sting of Kidron’s sling. Instagram now prevents adults from messaging children who don’t follow them on the app, while anyone under 16 who creates an account will have it set to private by default. TikTok has implemented a bedtime for notifications; teens aged 13-15 will no longer be pinged after 9pm. Meanwhile, YouTube has turned off autoplay for users aged 13-17, while Google has blocked the targeted advertising of under-18s.
But hang on, why does TikTok’s bedtime only apply to those 13 and over? Are toddlers OK to use the app until 2am? You’ve just spotted the first flaw in the plan. While social media sites require users to be at least 13 to sign up for their services (in line with America’s 21-year-old Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), a quick glance at reality shows that kids lie about their age in order to snap, share and status-update. Creating a system in which children can’t lie, by, for example, necessitating that they provide ID to access an online service, ironically risks compromising their privacy further.
“There is nothing that stops us having a very sophisticated age-check mechanism in which you don’t even know the identity of the person, you just know that that they’re 12,” Kidron argues, pointing to a report on age verification that she recently worked on with her organisation 5Rights Foundation, entitled But how do they know it is a child?. Third-party providers, for example, could confirm someone’s identity without passing on the data to tech giants, or capacity testing could allow websites to estimate someone’s age based on whether they can solve a puzzle (no prizes for figuring out the numerous ways that could go wrong).
Whatever the solution, Kidron is currently working on a private member’s bill that sets minimum standards of age assurance, thereby preventing companies from choosing their own “intrusive, heavy handed or just terrible, lousy, and ineffective” techniques.
How did Kidron go from looking like a “naysayer” to changing the landscape so drastically? Kidron began making documentaries in the 80s before working in Hollywood (most notably directing the Bridget Jones sequel The Edge of Reason). After becoming a baroness, she founded the 5Rights Foundation to fight for children’s digital rights. She says she had her “early adopters” in parliament, including the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, Conservative peer Dido Harding and Liberal Democrat peer Timothy Clement-Jones. “That was my gang,” Kidron says, but others remained sceptical for years. “The final set of people only came on board this summer, once they saw what the tech companies were doing.”
The Children’s Code as a whole defines a child as anyone under 18, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). For Kidron, it’s about much more than privacy – “a child’s right to unfettered access to different points of view is actually taken away by an algorithmic push for a particular point of view,” she argues, also noting that the right to the best possible health is removed when companies store and sell data about children’s mental health. “It’s nothing short of a generational injustice,” she says. “Here was this technology that was purporting to be progressive, but in relation to children it was regressive – it was taking away the existing rights and protections.”
How did these claims go down in Silicon Valley? Conversations with executives were surprisingly “very good and productive”, according to Kidron, but she ultimately realised that change would have to be forced upon tech companies. “They have an awful lot of money to have an awful lot of very clever people say an awful lot of things in an awful lot of spaces. And then nothing happens,” she says. “Anyone who thinks that the talk itself is going to make the change is simply wrong.”
And yet while companies must now comply with the code, even Kidron admits, “they have to comply in ways that they determine”. TikTok’s bedtime, for example, seems both arbitrary and easy to get around (children are well versed in changing the date and time on their devices to proceed in video games). Yet Kidron says the exact o’clock is irrelevant – the policy is about targeting sleeplessness in children, which in turn enables them to succeed at school. “These things seem tiny… but they’re not. They’re about the culture and they’re about how children live.”
As for children working their way around barriers, Kidron notes that transgression is part of childhood, but “you have to allow kids to transgress, you can’t just tell them it’s really normal”. “The problem we have is kids who are eight are looking at hardcore, violent, misogynistic porn and there’s no friction in the system to say, ‘Actually, that’s not yours.’”
Yet problems also arise when we allow tech companies, not parents, to set boundaries for our children. In 2017, YouTube came under fire after its parental controls blocked children from seeing content made by LGBTQ+ creators (YouTube initially apologised for the “confusion” and said only videos that “discuss more sensitive issues” would be restricted in the future). Kidron says she’s “not a big takedown freak” and is “committed to the idea that children have rights to participate”, but can the same be said of companies hoping to avoid fines? Numerous American websites remain inaccessible in Europe after the implementation of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in 2018, with companies preferring to restrict access rather than adapt.
For now, it remains to be seen how the Children’s Code will be enforced in practice; Kidron says it’s “the biggest redesign of tech since GDPR”, but in December 2020 a freedom of information request revealed that more than half of GDPR fines issued by the ICO remain unpaid.
Still, Kidron is certain of one thing: that tech companies are “disordering the world” with their algorithms – “making differences of their terms for people who are popular and have a lot of followers versus those who are not” and “labelling things that get attention without really thinking about what that attention is about”. These are prescient remarks: a day after we speak, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook has a program that exempts high-profile users from its rules and has also published internal studies demonstrating that Instagram is harmful to teens. One internal presentation slide read: “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls.” Instagram’s head of public policy responded to the report in a blog post, writing: “The story focuses on a limited set of findings and casts them in a negative light.”
Whether or not Kidron was once “one middle-aged woman against Silicon Valley”, today she has global support. The recent changes implemented by social media companies are not just UK-based, but have been rolled out worldwide. Kidron says her code is a Trojan horse, “starting the conversation that says, you can regulate this environment”.
But this Trojan horse is only beginning to open up. “We had 14 Factory Acts in the 19th century on child labour alone,” Kidron says, adding that the code is likely to be the first of many more regulations to come. “I think today we air punch,” she says, when asked how it feels to have led the charge for change. “Tomorrow, we go back to work.”