Ain’t it just wonderful?

Lahis Pasquali Kurtz

Professor of Digital Law at Federal University of Lavras, Brazil. Researcher on Law and Information Society since 2010. PhD in Law by Federal University of Minas Gerais.

Reading Time: 11 minutes
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“Due to a violation of your Oftea Inc. terms of use, you are no longer allowed to access or manage your Ilk account.”

Vea heard this from a very soothing and sympathetic voice on her earpods and felt the instant weight of being disconnected from the whole world. Of course, an Ilk account was not the only way to communicate or make business, or to access other online services, but it was her way of doing it.

She thought about going for a walk, but as soon as she put her shoes on, she realized they were not on. They didn’t show her heartbeat or temperature on the smart screen attached to her wrist.

“Id, Shoes Diagnostic”, she tried.

“No access. Ilk account blocked.”

Damn. This thought came with a perception that this day would be even longer than when the power went out a few years ago, and she discovered a defect in her generator. This had been fixed back then, and now pretty much everything was up and running, except her account on Ilk, as well as the possibility to access everything. It was as if everything was there but on the other side of some fence. Maybe she was inside, stuck? Oh, no time for this, she thought, and went to the door.

“Lock closed, no facial available due to lost connection with Ilk account”.

No way. Literally, there was no way out of the apartment now. Her “smart” lock was keeping her from opening her door. She took her glasses and commanded:

“Id, find SmartDoor 3000 instructions book. How to open a door without login?”

The response came seconds later in a more robotic, grave voice: “Hello, Anonymous User, I am Archie, SmartDoor 3000 assistant. I see you have problems with your login to SmartDoor 3000. I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s perform a few tests. Are you inserting your biodata correctly? Try to approach your thumb to the reader in the doorknob again.”

“Trying here, Archie” She put her – now very cold and a little sweaty – finger on the reader.

“Ok, I see that you are Vea and that you have an Ilk account connected to your SmartDoor 3000. Let me see… You have lost your access. You have two-step account verification, very well! In order to perform a security check, I will try to send you a message on another device to confirm your identity. Please say out loud the code you received in your e-mail.”

“I have no access to my e-mail.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. You have also provided a phone number in your personal record as a second step. Can you confirm your number for me?”

“Oh, I have changed it since then.”

“What is your current phone number?”

“Code 8484 number 42…67426793”

“I’m sorry, we have no record of that phone number.”

“I just want to get out of home for a walk!! Is it possible that the stupid blocking of my Ilk account arrested me in here forever?” She desperately said, throwing herself into a chair with arms folded and her face between her hands.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I speak on behalf of SmartDoor 3000, I do not have the means to restore your Ilk account or any other accounts. Since you have no other form of secure communication available, I can ask for a human-authorized technician to go to your home to reset configurations.”

“Ok, but is there any other way of getting out of here right now?”

“On behalf of SmartDoor 3000, I state that our locks are personalized with the level of security requested by the client and suggested by me, and this guarantees that you will have no one unsolicited entering your home – or wherever you put one of our SmartDoor 3000 locks! So, you configured it with a maximum security check, preventing others from using solely your fingerprint to disarm or reboot the lock. Voice command also does not have this level of permission, nor does it provide personal info. Your second step of the ID check was e-mail or telephone number. So, as you have lost access to your accounts, you will have to perform an in-person ID check. Because you are currently inside your home, I assume you will not be able to go to our office, so I am sending you a human technician, Mario. I’ll be back soon with his estimated arrival time. If you need anything, just call Archie!”

“Alright…” Sighing, she looked around to her rather messy apartment and decided to vacuum it. If she’s staying home, at least she could do some cleaning meanwhile.

“Sookie, vacuum the living room and bedroom!” She said out loud, not knowing exactly where to look since she didn’t know the hiding place of the vacuum in the middle of her clothes that lay all over the place.

“I’m sorry, you are not logged in. Please log in to your Ilk account to allow room blueprint access.” A robotic, muffled voice came from the round object trying to navigate with a sock stuck to it.

“Ghhh, this cannot be happening!” Vea knobbed her hand at the table and said, through her teeth, “Sookie, please, map the room and then vacuum it.”

“Okie dokie, mapping is starting now, vacuum is estimated to begin in 20 minutes!”

Vea took a deep breath. She decided to go back to the original issue.

“Id, why is my Ilk account blocked?”

“You have to take an ID test in order to access this communication.”

“Here we go again…”

“I’m sorry, it seems as if you want to go somewhere, can you repeat the question?”

“No, Id, I simply wish to access the message from Ilk that presents the reason for the account being blocked. ”

“You need to perform an ID check. Please, look into the camera of your handyvice.”

Vea looked at the tiny box in her hand, putting it into the height of her iris, and then waited for a few seconds.

“Iris scan complete. Access granted to Vea Fae. Here is the content of the Oftea Inc. blocking message.”

Vea put her glasses on and saw, in front of her, a paper sheet which she could not touch – a virtual projection from her handy vice, with Oftea Inc. logo, which read:

“You have violated clause zeta-gama-x from Oftea Inc. services terms of use on the date of 1st April 2030, at 15 p.m., and as of that date, you have lost access to your account. You can appeal that penalty using this request formulary [tap here to open] or, if you need further information, you can talk directly to Louie, our contract assistant. We wish you a nice day and thank you for being an Ilk user.”

“I’m gonna regret this…” she mumbled to herself, and then continued out loud and looking up impatiently and taking glasses off “I want to talk to Louie”

Immediately, a new voice came up in her earpods: “Good afternoon, Vea! I’m Louie, Oftea Inc. assistant, and I am here at your request. You seem to be confused about your Ilk account being blocked. Do you need further information on the reason or what else?”

“Hi, Louie… I want to know what is that long clause I seem to have violated on the terms of use. All I had been doing was using my account normally, but then, out of nowhere, it was blocked. And I got trapped in my own house and I have to wait for some technician guy who will see if I am myself, and all of this madness!”

“I can see that you are upset. Sorry that you feel this way. I can assure Ilk and all other Oftea Inc. products are designed to make your life easier and connect you to whatever you need. As for your request, the clause says that you- “

“Vea, I have the estimated time of arrival of our human assistant at your SmartDoor 3000, he will be there in 1 hour 23 minutes. Thanks for your patience and for choosing our services. If you need anything, just call Archie!” The interruption took Louie by surprise, and he stopped talking so that Vea could hear Archie, the lock assistant.

Then, Vea suddenly had a click and said, before Louie could resume talking:

“Id! Id, share my iris data with Archie, so that he can verify that I am myself!”

“Under data protection law, as a data controller, I am not allowed to do this.” Id said this in an ironically robotic voice.

“I am afraid that this is accurate. As we attend to different compliance patterns because of the jurisdiction where SmartDoor 3000 is based, we have a different approach to our privacy policy, and it seems as if it is not compatible with Id’s fabricant one.” Said Archie, in an apologetic tone.

“I cannot believe I am mediating a conversation between two robots in my ears. They were supposed to help us! All personal assistants, silence!” Vea said this to herself, while trying to access her old phone and tried the contact list of the device, managed to get to her friend Aisha’s number, and commanded it to make an old-school, phone call. She could almost hear the noise of a ringtone in her friend’s house – or wherever she could be now, since unlike Vea, Aisha was a free woman, connected with the world both physically and virtually, with no accounts blocked. But there was no answer.

Does anyone still use mobile phones? Vea tried all her friends on the contact list, but nobody answered. Her mother maybe would answer and say something like “told you so” about using SmartDoor 3000, while her father would probably only say that he does not use two-step verification and has never had this kind of problem. She skipped those contacts.

Suddenly, she heard a humming noise and then saw her vacuum cleaner passing into the bedroom. “Cleaning time estimated in forty minutes”, said Sookie in a cheerful voice.

Good, Vea thought, everything’s not lost, after all, I still have a clean prison to stay at. She could not access her digital library with all her videos, music, and games, so this meant she was sentenced to boredom – at least until the SmartDoor 3000 technician arrived to free her. Work was not even a question until her Ilk account was reestablished, since she was a writer and all her texts were written and published directly at Hat, a platform for independent authors.

She could not remember the last time she had gone rogue and written a text in an offline editor. Vea always worked online because of fear to lose the work, especially now that her account was logged off and, without it, no backup was available. A few years ago, when Ilk was not yet a thing, she had learned the worst way that it was possible to lose an entire week of work because your robot personal assistant understood that a song called “Permanent Delete”, about a love and cheating story, was a command about the last file she had saved. Since it was not stored elsewhere, the file was effectively permanently deleted. Vea could never hear that song again, as it made her tense and shrug her shoulders. This also marked a big change in Id’s programming, because clients all around the world had similar issues – this song was a big success from a one-hit-wonder AI called S2, which later passed through a brand change in order to stay on the market and dodge huge lawsuits for material loss due to files lost – and they made a taskforce in order to improve context analysis for it, as well as new security mechanisms for irreversible voice commands such as “delete”.

Similar to copyright issues, holders of intellectual property rights have been pressing AI industry for better solutions in securing virtual files and unique information stored in personal devices. The aftermath of the S2 incident made it clear that they had what it takes to solve issues that represented big-money lawsuits, but then a few other situations proved they would not make the same effort to patch all context analysis issues.

A clear blue blinking light appeared on Vea’s handyvice while she was searching the web for alternatives to Ilk in order to entertain herself. It was a notification from Louie, which read “Clause zeta-gama-x from Oftea Inc. services terms of use”. She took her glasses and tapped into the air where now the file with this title was floating in front of her and read:

“Hi, Vea, since you requested silence, I think you would rather read the content of the clause you requested yourself, so I quote it above. On behalf of Oftea Inc., I wish you a connected day! Louie

Clause zeta-gama-x from Oftea Inc. services terms of use

Harmful or offensive content may inflict terms of use. Ilk users shall not use language that conveys hatred or violence against groups of people. Violation of these terms may cause the account to be suspended or lost. Contextual analysis of content may apply to determine compliance.”

She was overwhelmed by this, since she never posted any offensive or harmful content. “Louie! Please, show me what content of mine violated the terms of use,” she said, gasping.

As she waited for the answer, the virtual letter in front of her was replaced by an old episode of a sitcom featuring four people living in New York, essentially about nothing, that started playing. The waiting videos were more and more frequently used as a way to entertain people in social account customer service – especially when they had lost access like Vea, when the company knew there were no other media available for access and they didn’t want to encourage people to use alternative accounts from other brands.

Vea had already seen this particular episode, but she decided to keep the glasses to see it again while waiting – she was, after all, no different from expected and had no patience or willpower to look for an alternative pastime. At the end of the episode, just before the credits, a notification emerged and Vea paused the video. A new virtual screen popped up in front of her with one of her last contents posted as a comment at a Pizza place profile: “The ‘Girl from Ipanema’ is awful, I will never come back”. It was illustrated by an emoji with a tongue out and a finger next to it, insinuating disgust.

“No way! How is this harmful content when I’m alerting to a bad pizza flavor? If anything, it’s – what’s the contrary of harmful?”

“Beneficial may be the word you’re looking for”, said Louie.

“Yes, I’m helping other people, so it’s beneficial content!” she was upset, outraged even, to learn this was the content that triggered the whole chaos she was experiencing.

“Well, I am only an assistant, but let me check the metadata to discover what exactly triggered the issue. This may take a few moments, so I will notify you with the results! Have a connected day!”

“You must be kidding me… Well, ok, I’ll go back to my home prison. At least now it’s clean.”

The door made a sound of knocking – it was not a wooden door, but the doorbell sensor was programmed to make that sound when someone was approaching or facing the door. Vea went to open it and then realized she was not going to make it. She then asked:

“Id, who’s at the door? Show me” Then, with her magnified reality glasses, she saw the image of a middle-aged man, with a uniform that said “SmartDoor3000”.

“Mario, from SmartDoor 3000 maintenance. Is anyone there?” He screamed outside.

“Yes, I am trapped inside!” Vea said, with a flash of hope in her voice.

“OK, I will ask you to confirm the protocol number I just passed to your personal assistant.”

She saw another notification popping up and read the protocol number.

“I will see here the exact sequence to reboot your lock, this may take a few minutes” The last part of the sentence faded out as he walked a little farther from the door. In the meantime, she received another notification. It was Louie, and she decided to hear it instead of reading, so she took her glasses off and said:

“Louie, tell me what you’ve found, please?”

“Hi, Vea! I discovered that the account had been deactivated due to the offensive tone of your content in that specific comment. It was considered offensive to girls living in Ipanema, according to the report. So, according to the analysis we’ve run on flagged content. First, AI detected potential harmfulness, and our context analysis tool decided the following: quote ‘It may seem like harmless content when restricted to the pizza flavor, but as a context analysis tool, I can detect potential harm and incitement to violence when considered there are girls in a neighborhood called Ipanema, and that they might get offended by this comment. I saw in our database that a person of the female gender who has a history of being in the neighborhood of Ipanema had access to this very comment, so harm is imminent. The access to all account activity was then blocked according to Clause zeta-gama-x from Oftea Inc’. End quote”

“That’s bananas! I want to appeal, fill the form with the origins of that pizza flavor’s name, which I believe is a song’s title, and refer to other context misinterpretations AI has already made, and make it a convincing argument for me please, Id. I can’t believe it!” Vea just wanted to get to the nearest ice cream shop and draw herself into a cookies and cream bucket. But then she heard from the technician outside.

“Please, Vea, I want you to keep away from the door. I will count ‘till 5 and then open it forcefully, ok?” He said that in a very serious and imponent manner.

“Ok…” She was not so happy saying those words, walking into the apartment and away from the door, imagining that maybe the integrity of her lock would not be kept.

Vea heard what looked like a code in what seemed an alien language, comprising tapping and tool noises before the door opened very quickly. It revealed a very short man storing his tools back in his tool bag, who then looked up, facing Vea, and said:

“There you go, open door! Oh, the call report says you were logged off and lost access, what a bummer. But you just need to configure a new key and reprogram your account; it will be as good as new! I see here on the system that you have two-step verification, very good! You should also make it possible for Archie – he’s excellent, that little robot guy – to let you retrieve control of your account based on the context of the logout and other details of the situation. This new context analysis tool for account recovery is an update SmartDoor 3000 has been working on, ain’t it just wonderful?”

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