The Fairphone—A Good Start at Ethical Hardware

Casey Johnson at Ars Technica (“Fairphone” looks to give power back to customers):

The “Fairphone,” a phone that purports to approach smartphone design in the most ethical way possible from every conceivable angle, opened for preorders last Friday. The phone uses only conflict-free resources wherever possible, it has an open design, and it is marketed in a transparent way to customers.

Starting small.  Android only, Europe only, and about $400.  As a product, it probably won’t have a huge impact in and of itself. Hopefully it will serve as a very successful proof-of-concept that we can do tech in a way that both respects everyone involved (trying to improve practices along the way) and is financially viable.


© Fairphone

The One World Futbol for Christmas

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Maybe something that others might enjoy, too. Check out the One World Futbol (or soccer ball, for those of us in the US) project. (via Ken Belson at the New York Times.)

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

Something that I never would have thought of. So Jahnigen figured out how to make a soccer ball that plays well but doesn’t deflate. Super cool. Now I won’t have to find one of those needles somewhere in the utility drawer, or was it the garage, in the spring when the ball will be flat.

But more importantly, kids who don’t have much but a soccer ball can keep on playing.

They have a “buy one, give one” program where they “give a second ball to a community in need through organizations working in disadvantaged communities such as refugee camps, war zones, disaster areas and inner cities.” Or you can just give one if you’d like. Check out One World Futbol Project .

Netflix, Closed-Captioning, and a Legal Settlement

Back in July, I posted about Netflix’s lost bid to have the a lawsuit against it thrown out of court. A class action lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Deaf asserted that Netflix violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because Netflix when it failed to provide closed-captioning for many of its streaming videos. My post reflected a bit on how the right thing to do can sometimes be very complicated. There are times, I think, when people/groups that demonstrate generally good will get (themselves) into questionable situations because they either didn’t think through their plans entirely, or they through it so late that changing course is so difficult, they are stopped in their tracks. Doing justice (a virtue) thing requires bravery (another virtue), but it also requires prudence (a third virtue) to figure out the right course of action to achieve justice.  For publicly traded companies seeking to do the right thing while both staying in business and—most importantly—keeping major shareholders happy, that’s no mean feat. Putting yourself out of business is not necessarily the most morally laudable course of action.

Well, it looks like the legal process worked its magic.  According to Joe Mullin at Ars Technica:


Fighting Poverty by Removing the Extortionist (I Mean Legitimate Businessman)

From David Talbot at Technology Review, a brief story about how something that seems so simple can make such a big difference.  In India, hundreds of millions of people have essentially no access to basic banking and credit.

‘People who have no access to credit at all—like really small farmers—pay sometimes up to 10 percent per day. They literally take 100 rupees’ worth of goods from a vendor and have to give back 110 rupees in the evening. If they have even a tiny shock one day—a tiny accident—and can’t pay back the vendor, it is devastating.’ Around the world, she explained, ‘A lot of poverty comes from having not even the tiniest amount of financial slack.’

To address this need, folks from Xerox Research Center India have been developing banking kiosks that will be able to transcribe and translate written transaction slips, and then communicate with banks through low-bandwith satellite connections. Such a system could enable banks to establish presences in remote locations that are not served now, providing opportunities for people in the most tenuous situations a better chance at subsisting.  As Talbot put it:

If it works out, it means more farmers and would-be entrepreneurs can say “no thanks” to the local mafia charging ten percent a day.

This might mean that a lot of those lender/vendors may see their profits fall, but I’m ok with that. I like it when —metaphorically speaking—the hens get a bit more leverage against the wolf at the door.

Netflix, Closed-Captioning, and the Difficulty of Means

A couple of weeks ago, Chris Morran at The Consumerist reported on an unexpected, but reasonable, legal decision against Netflix.

Netflix recently asked a court to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the National Association for the Deaf that alleges the company violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by not including closed-captioning on many of its streaming videos. But earlier this week, the judge in the case ruled against Netflix, allowing the suit to move forward.

Since the early 1990s, televisions have been required to be able to display closed captions in programming.  It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that programs were required to carry the captioning. Clearly, allowing the suit to proceed makes sense. Netflix argued (in Thomas’ terms) “that the ADA doesn’t apply to Internet-only businesses or to services that people use at home rather than in public places.” The judge called that “irrational.”

The tricky bit here, as June Thomas at Slate summarizes well, is the technical side of things.


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