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Where the Internet Lives October 18, 2012

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Journalism, News, Online Video, Trends.
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Google server banks at its data center

Google has provided the most comprehensive look yet inside its mighty Internet infrastructure. The largest search engine in the world has released a portfolio of images offering a rare glimpse into the secret world of the vast data centers powering its online information empire.

These centers handle well over 50 thousand servers that power the services we use every day – 20 billion web pages indexed, 3 billion searches, and 425 million Gmail users daily. To kick this tour off permanently, Google has launched a Website called Where the Internet Lives.

The site shows images from all of Google’s 12 data centers and let you meet the staff who run them. Check out one of their data center via Street View technology:

For a more thorough look inside Google’s cloud factories, the search giant has granted a CBS News crew unprecedented access to its Lenoir, North Carolina data center for a tour of facilities the tech giant once refused to acknowledge even existed. Take a walk through the Lenoir data center here.

For years, Google refused to acknowledge these data centers even existed and all visitors have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Every person entering and leaving is tracked and if more than one person enters the doors at once, alarms sound.

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Clinton Urges Web Freedom January 22, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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Boo China, yay Web neutrality! Fasten your belts for the “next great global battle of ideas!” Depending on which side of the great firewall you’re on, the “iconic infrastructure of our age” will be the site for a cyber showdown.

And that’s to ensure that the Web remains “a tool of openness, opportunity, expression, and possibility rather than of one of control, surveillance, suppression.”

American State Secretary Hillary Clinton underlined that reality when she called for an unfettered Internet and delivered a tongue lashing to China in an impassioned policy speech at the Newseum journalism museum in Washington.

Read entire transcript of Clinton’s speech here. The virtual volleys have begun, with China slamming the speech as “information imperialism.” Read the rebuff on China’s foreign ministry Website here.

We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.

We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State

That America’s top diplomat champions “freedom to connect” as a basic human right is a huge stake, especially when the US State Department is funding the development of tools to help Web users circumvent government censorship online.

Poised to be the Web’s first diplomat, Hillary Clinton has jumped right into the fray of the Google vs China spat, calling Web curbs the modern equivalent of the Berlin Wall and warning of a new information curtain descending on the world.

It’s fascinating how Google’s corporate move has turned into an international incident. Web freedom has joined trade imbalances, currency values, human rights and Tibet among the quarrels straining ties between the world’s biggest and third-biggest economies.

Clinton’s call for global condemnation of those who conduct cyber attacks is an important opportunity to counter governments who want to censor and conduct surveillance on individuals. The challenge is how the State Department will walk the talk by incorporating Web freedom into diplomacy, trade policy, and meaningful pressure on companies to act responsibly.

The speech is a huge stake in net neutrality and its meaning cannot be overstated. The Web was born and nurtured in America, with input from other countries. Now a top US official and arguably the most prominent female political figure is seeking to shape the Web’s evolving ethos and guiding principles.

In parts of the Middle East, women are beaten and killed in “honor” beatings by relatives who find out they are using sites like Twitter and Facebook. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are among countries that censor the Web or harass bloggers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China.

Early in her primary campaign, Clinton was considered less Web-savvy than Barack Obama and online attack ad that spread on YouTube foreshadowed the narrative of her fight for the Democratic nomination, portraying Clinton as the old PC and Obama as the shiny new Mac.


The YouTube video, which mashes up Apple’s 1984 ad with Hillary Clinton’s own campaign imagery.

Clinton is now leading the way within the Obama administration in recognizing the transformational opportunities of the Internet. Speaking in broad strokes and finer details, she outlined what she called the five key freedoms of the Internet age: Freedom to connect online anywhere. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from fear of cyber attacks.

Of course that didn’t sit well with the “What Internet censorship?” crowd on the other side of the planet. There’s an argument that the technical architecture of the Web is different from the values of people who use it. If parents can limit what teenagers can see, then governments can limit what citizens see. If citizens can circumvent governments, teenagers will be able to circumvent parents.

But we’re talking about a generation of citizens who have never typed the words “Falun Gong,” “Dalai Lama,” or “Tiananmen Square massacre” into their search engines. Information openness for them is just a crack in a dark room without electricity.


A Chinese flag flutters near the Google logo on top of Google’s China headquarters in Beijing.

The blowback against Google’s announcement that it was hacked by Chinese cyber agents – and in response would be lifting the restrictions that keep users of its Chinese search engine in the dark – has been fascinating. Clinton upped the ante by calling for global Internet freedom.

When Google threw down the gauntlet to China’s Web censors, it also challenged the loyalties of the nation’s wired generation. Tech-savvy Chinese in their 20s and 30s grew up in greater affluence and openness than their parents. Many are pulled between patriotic pride and a yearning for more say over their own lives.

The Google dispute may become a telling test of how China’s wired generation balance loyalties to their country with their desire for free expression and access to information, and this response could shape how Beijing handles the dispute.

The Obama administration has shown it wants to court this emerging generation of connected Chinese. China’s latest survey of Web use found 60 percent of the nation’s online population of 384 million was aged 10 to 29.

Despite censorship, China’s Internet can be a potent public forum, with bloggers and amorphous online groups hectoring the government over pollution and corruption. Last year, the government abruptly abandoned a plan to force all new personal computers to come with a copy of “Green Dam” Internet-filtering software that had been derided by online critics as intrusive and ineffective.

Related reads
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are Tools for Diplomacy.
China Slam’s Clinton’s Internet Speech as Information Imperialism
China rebuffs US Internet demands
Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?

Google Stands up To China January 16, 2010

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, News, Social Media, Trends, Web Video.
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At last Google is taking on Beijing. The search giant is “phasing out” censoring the results in google.cn, the Chinese-language version of its famed search engine.

In a post in The Future of the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain notes that the announcement of “A new approach to China” is a stunning move both in its fact and execution. It includes a link to the story of GhostNet, discovered by fellow ONI researchers when the Dalai Lama gave them his oddly-acting laptop to examine.

Companies rarely share information about the cyberattacks they experience — conventional wisdom has it that it makes the company appear vulnerable, and drives customers away. Here Google is open about the attacks, and links them to a lessening of enthusiasm for doing business in China. Eliminating censorship in google.cn is only mentioned after that.

Suppose the Chinese government acts as expected and tells Google that it may no longer operate in China. Google.cn might vanish as a domain name, since it’s hosted under the Chinese country-code TLD of .cn, ultimately controllable by the Chinese government.

But the search engine found they could of course keep operating from a different location, like cn.google.com. Suppose then that China attempts to filter out traffic to and from that new location — and to and from google.com for good measure, as it has done from time to time, especially before the advent of google.cn and its agreement to censor.

Google engineers who might have been a bit halfhearted about implementing censorship mandates in google.cn could be full-throttle in coming up with ways for Google to be viewed despite any network interruptions between site and user.

There are lots of unexplored options here. They’re unexplored not because they’re infeasible, but because most sites would rather not provoke a government that filters. So they don’t undertake to get information out in ways that might evade blockages.

But then, the difference between values and technology is it works for citizens in China seeking human rights, it works for teenagers in America seeking porn.

Here, Google would have nothing more to lose, so could pioneer some new approaches. Circumvention of filtering (or other blockages, for that matter) tends to happen on the user side of things, seeking out proxies like the Tor network, or anonymizer.com.

The larger benefits of operating in China originally cited by Google four years ago — exposing the citizenry to services beyond those locally grown and monitored; engaging them beyond the “China Wide Web” to which some government officials aspire to limit them; and gaining market share that can create momentum and support for later loosening of restrictions — may attenuate.

Google.cn is less known and used than, say, the local Baidu search engine, which boasts about 60% market share. That share is about to get even bigger.

But drawing a line is both the right move and a brilliant one. It helps realign Google’s business with its ethos, and masterfully recasts the firm in a place it will feel more comfortable: supporting the free and open dissemination of information rather than metering it out according to undesirable (and capricious) government standards.

Google Plans Paid News Platform September 10, 2009

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Advertising, Convergence, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
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Google is developing a payment platform for newspapers that would allow them to charge for content online, contending that the service will drive traffic to news websites.

Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab said Google had submitted a proposal to the Newspaper Association of America in response to a request made by the NAA to major technology companies. Download the document here.

The Web giant says micro payments will be a payment vehicle available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year. The idea is to allow viable payments of a cent to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants and over time.

googlecheckout

To mitigate the risk of non-payment, Google proposes to assign credit limits based on past purchasing behavior and using its proprietary risk engines to track abuse or fraud. Revenue may be shared in a similar fashion to the iTunes App Store and Google’s own Android Market, both of which take a 30% cut of revenue.

We believe that content on the Internet can thrive supported by multiple business models – including content available only via subscription. ‘While we believe that advertising will likely remain the main source of revenue for most news content, a paid model can serve as an important source of additional revenue. Google

Given ‘the newspaper industry’s tenuous relationship with Google, the move is surprising. ‘Google’s popular news aggregator website Google News has drawn fire from some US newspaper publishers for linking to their articles without payment.

The micropayment system is likely to have bigger implications outside of the news industry. Other companies too are seeking to develop a payment platform for newspapers.

Journalism Online, a company launched in April which seeks to help news organizations make money on the Web, says it has more than 500 newspapers and magazines agreeing to join the venture as affiliates.

A payment platform would go online later this year to allow subscribers to access paid content at the websites of the affiliates using a universal Journalism Online account.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has held talks with The New York Times Co, Washington Post Co, Hearst Corp and Tribune Co, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, on forming a consortium that would charge for news online

Who Owns Your Web Privacy? July 16, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Advertising, News, Social Media, Trends, YouTube.
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The Web has much to offer, but you can give away more than just cookies. Information about yourself is on the line. The recent court ruling seeking Youtube viewer-ship records attacks the very underpinnings of the Internet.

Google, which owns YouTube, was ordered by a federal judge to reveal to Viacom, owner of movie studio Paramount and MTV Networks, the viewing habits of everyone who has ever used the popular online video site.

Viacom wanted the information as part of its US$1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube. The YouTube database includes information on when each video gets played. Attached to each entry is each viewer’s unique login ID and the IP address which can often be traced to individuals, their employers or home towns.

So how safe are the repositories of data Internet companies collect about you? Credit card companies know your purchasing habits, telcos know your call and emailing patterns, and search engines know what you sought.

Your whereabouts can be tracked based on your digital footprints. The way Web sites collect information is like having someone follow a shopper around the mall, jotting down what they looked at and bought as they moved from store to store.

NebuAd for example, is facing heat for its targeted advertising system that critics say is invasive and spies on users. With access to an ISP’s network, NebuAd’s system monitors Internet browsing to deliver targeted ads related to search queries and Web sites a person has viewed.

Some ISPs are experimenting with a technology, known as “deep packet inspection,” which allows them to peer into the stream of data coming from a person’s Internet line, a practice critics liken to wiretapping.

And it gets scarier. Although today’s Web is full of masses of data that is easily understandable to humans, most computers cannot make head nor tail of its content. The semantic Web will be even more revealing because it makes the Internet more intelligent.

The semantic web will bring meaning to the jumble of data now on the web. It will suck in information – photographs, calendars, retail information, public records – and process it into a coherent picture of a person, place or thing. It will turn data to information to knowledge and …. POWER.

This is great if you can link real-time prescription data for flu remedies with geographical data to do real-time epidemiology and and fight diseases. But if a company or a hospital build a profile of me, should I be allowed to see what’s in my files?

There are technical and philosophical questions around the issues. If “personally identifiable information” is to be guarded by the law, what constitutes such information? Should a person’s numerical Internet address be considered private?

Until the laws are in place, here’s how to cover our digital trail.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY – AP

Read privacy policies – although you have little control over what happens to data, you can at least know what gets collected and retained.

Avoid identifying information in user IDs, such as a first initial and full last name. Choosing a moniker that avoids any reference to your name, job or other personal attributes can make tracking more difficult.

Don’t use the same user ID across multiple services. For example, if a user ID is attached to a message board posting that includes your full name, even if the ID itself does not contain your real name, it’s now tied to your name when used elsewhere.

Use anonymising software such as Tor. Such systems relay data packets through many servers to help mask the numeric Internet protocol address identifying your computer.

Privacy advocates say that concerned users also should press service providers to collect less data, retain the information for shorter periods and be more forthcoming about their data policies.

Related read
Protecting Your Privacy on the Internet

Google Knols to Highlight Authors December 15, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in News, Social Media, Trends.
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google16.jpg

There’s an alternative to Wikipedia. Google has given Jimmy Wales’ cool idea a makeover with Knols – the word denotes a unit of knowledge. Seems like when you’re big, there’s a need to own everything. The aim of Knols is to create an authoritative store of information about any and every topic.

The search giant has already started inviting people to write about the subject on which they are known to be an expert. The site could eventually compete with Wales’ popular user-edited encyclopedia. Here’s an example of a Knol.

Certainly, competition will improve content on both sites. The more regulated posting environment and accountability in the Knol model could solve the problem of “idiot and evangelist” authors. But the contribution’s accuracy is still being judged by popularity based on page views and user rankings.

Anyone will be free to write. All editorial responsibilities and control rest with the authors, Google vice president of engineering Udi Manber wrote in a company blog post.

By indexing the web, Google strives to make information more easily accessible. However, not all the information on the web was “well organised to make it easily discoverable”. By getting respected authors to write about their specialism Google hopes to start putting some of that information in better order.

Knols provide Web-based templates with which experts can write posts about areas of expertise. Readers can then rank (and link to) the posts, which affects where they appear in Google search rankings. By sharing ad revenue with writers, Google provides an economic incentive to participants.

We do not want to build a walled garden of content; we want to disseminate it as widely as possible. Google will not ask for any exclusivity on any of this content and will make that content available to any other search engine.

UDI MANBER, Google VP of Engineering

The system centres around authored articles created with a tool dubbed “knol” that will make webpages with a distinctive livery to identify them as authoritative. A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read.

The Knol concept doesn’t stop at “articles.” Big media, human generated search (Mahalo) and About.com come to mind. Henry Blodget notes in Silicon Alley Insider that the Knol model has several advantages over existing competitors:

Author branding. Wikipedia is a phenomenon, with the miracle being that so many experts are willing to waste so much time creating content they’ll never get any credit or money for. Knols credits authors. The posts are by-lined.

Author compensation. Wikipedia is created by an army of volunteers. Knols authors have an opportunity to get paid. The good news from Google’s perspective is that they’ll get paid based on the revenue they generate, not based on the number of crappy posts they submit.

Author accountability. Wikipedia’s greatest flaw is that anyone can change it. This is fine, except that it’s nice to know who is responsible for what you’re reading, so you don’t mistake it for objective fact. In the Knols system, authors are responsible for their own copy, and those who post crap will be made irrelevant with distant search rankings.

Comments/Peer Reviews. Readers can comment on posts and other experts can review them. This is arguably a far better system than Wikipedia, where readers who disagree can just change the content.

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