Topic: Science & Technology

YouTube, Google and the Lock-picking Videos
(11/30/2006)

The British consumer magazine "Which?" launched an investigation that uncovered more than 280 videos on the website YouTube demonstrating lock-picking techniques, showcasing the tools every lock-picker should have, or both. One film, which shows how to make the tools needed to pick locks, has been seen more than 60,000 times. Others are accompanied by comments from people saying they have followed the instructions to successfully pick the locks of their neighbors. Should such "how to be a criminal" material be permitted on YouTube?

Google, which just bought YouTube for a fortune, referred the magazine's inquiries back to its latest subsidiary, saying it was up to the YouTubers to decide what to do. 'Way the pass the ethical buck, guys! Google's much-ballyhooed philosophy includes tenet #6: "You can make money without doing evil." So what are you telling us? That helping burglars burgle isn't evil? That you're not making money off of YouTube?

Or how about this interpretation: Google and YouTube are irresponsible. There is no benign justification for publicizing lock-picking techniques. There can be no good consequences of teaching more people to pick locks. Therefore it is clear, or should be, that the ethically responsible thing for YouTube to do is remove content designed to foster criminal behavior.

"How to Pick Locks"---out. "Making Ecstasy for Fun and Profit"---gone. "Secrets of Successful Mob Hits"---bye! "Make Your Own Nuclear Bomb"----off the site. It's not difficult to comprehend. And truly outrageous if Google and YouTube don't adopt a "No criminal training videos" policy immediately.

The Scoreboard may have to call a halt to its recent practice of reading blog entries around the web on issues like this, because it's too depressing. The lack of anything approaching ethical sensitivity is shocking. One post adopts the "guns don't kill people" approach of the NRA: "A video about lock picking will not make someone a criminal," writes the author. Perhaps not, but it may make him a more successful criminal. Where is the societal benefit to balance this risk? Is there any? I don't see it. Informing the world about lock-picking isn't necessary; it's mischief.

Another commenter thinks it's "humorous" that a similar fuss wasn't made over a Discovery Channel program called "It Takes a Thief," which showed various house-breaking techniques. The Discovery Channel show was aimed at educating homeowners about security issues, so there was an intended and legitimate benefit, but let's assume the blogger has a valid point and that the Discovery Channel program only benefited potential thieves. That would only compel the conclusion that the Discovery Channel was irresponsible to run such a program---just like YouTube. It in no way justifies YouTube's lock-picking tutorial.

Then there's the ever-popular misapplication of the Bill of Rights. One commenter wrote, no doubt tsk-tsk-ing as he did so, "What's more scary is to see how free speech is so casually disregarded..." It is difficult to decide whether the proper response to statements like this is a solemn sigh, a derisive laugh, or a scream that never ends. Let's try enlightenment. Free speech doesn't mean it is right to publish obnoxious, dangerous, insidious and irresponsible material, only that it is legal to do so. There is no "free speech" principle requiring a private enterprise like YouTube or their corporate parent to assist someone's tutorial for crooks.

But there are plenty of ethical values that require a company---especially a company with the directive "Do no evil" in its corporate creed---to forbid cyberspace under its control to be used for that purpose. Among these are competence, caring, responsibility, consideration for one's community, decency, citizenship, the duty to neither harm others nor assist a third party in doing so, and of course, integrity. It's called doing the right thing, in short. If Google and YouTube can't figure this one out, that corporate creed will have become just another empty aspiration.

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