For years, Google has intervened in regulatory and court proceedings on the side of net neutrality (except for its embarrassing and inexcusable joint filing with Verizon on mobile rules). But now that Google is running its own gigabit broadband service, it has told the FCC that it's perfectly reasonable to discriminate on the basis of which packets are flowing and how they were generated -- justifying its own terms-of-service that block running "servers." Without this policy, it would be harder for Google to sell a "business" service that was distinct from the gigabit home service.
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Researcher wins NSA cyber-security prize, says freedom is incompatible with the NSA "in its current form"
Dr. Joseph Bonneau, an engineer at Google, is the first-ever winner of the NSA's new Science of Security (SoS) Competition, a prize for excellence in cyber-security research. On learning that he had won the first prize, he published a scorching blog-post excoriating the NSA for its dragnet surveillance and opining "I don’t think a free society is compatible with an organisation like the NSA in its current form."
Fast, Accurate Detection of 100,000 Object Classes on a Single Machine a prizewinning paper by Google Research scientists, describes a breakthrough in machine vision that can distinguish between a huge class of objects 20,000 times faster than before.
This so-called convolution operator is one of the key operations used in computer vision and, more broadly, all of signal processing. Unfortunately, it is computationally expensive and hence researchers use it sparingly or employ exotic SIMD hardware like GPUs and FPGAs to mitigate the computational cost. We turn things on their head by showing how one can use fast table lookup — a method called hashing — to trade time for space, replacing the computationally-expensive inner loop of the convolution operator — a sequence of multiplications and additions — required for performing millions of convolutions with a single table lookup.
We demonstrate the advantages of our approach by scaling object detection from the current state of the art involving several hundred or at most a few thousand of object categories to 100,000 categories requiring what would amount to more than a million convolutions. Moreover, our demonstration was carried out on a single commodity computer requiring only a few seconds for each image. The basic technology is used in several pieces of Google infrastructure and can be applied to problems outside of computer vision such as auditory signal processing.
CNet's Declan McCullagh reports on a rumor that Google is testing a system for encrypting its users' files on Google Drive; they are reportedly considering the move as a means of making it harder for government spies to harvest user-data. There are lots of things this could mean: if Google encrypts the files but retains the keys, it would mean that any government spying would be more visible within the company, since it would require the government requesting access to the keys before it could snoop on users. On the other hand, it might mean that Google would encrypt its files in a way that even it can't encrypt it -- called "zero-knowledge encryption" -- which would be much more robust against spying. McCullagh talks about companies that do similar things:
Some smaller companies already provide encrypted cloud storage, a concept that's sometimes called "host-proof hosting." SpiderOak says its software, available for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, and Nokia N900 platforms, uses "zero-knowledge" encryption techniques that allow it to store data that's "readable to you alone." SpiderOak also offers a Web access option because of "overwhelming customer demand," but suggests the client application is more secure.
Wuala is an application for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, and Android created by Zurich-based LaCie AG that also uses client-side encryption. "LaCie employees have very limited access to your data," the company says. "They can only see how many files you have stored and how much storage space they occupy."
Here's Fred von Lohmann, one of the senior copyright attorneys at Google -- and formerly head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's copyright practice -- describing how YouTube takedowns and fair use claims work, with generous use of excitable puppets. It's the role he was born to play!
Copyright on YouTube (Thanks, Fred!)
Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, co-authors of the excellent book Big Data write in the MIT Tech Review with a good, skeptical look at the risks of relying on data to the exclusion of other factors in decisionmaking. They use Robert McNamara, the hyper-rational architect of the Vietnam War, as their posterchild for data-blindness, and discuss how modern firms have repeated his mistakes in other domains:
The dictatorship of data ensnares even the best of them. Google runs everything according to data. That strategy has led to much of its success. But it also trips up the company from time to time. Its cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, long insisted on knowing all job candidates’ SAT scores and their grade point averages when they graduated from college. In their thinking, the first number measured potential and the second measured achievement. Accomplished managers in their 40s were hounded for the scores, to their outright bafflement. The company even continued to demand the numbers long after its internal studies showed no correlation between the scores and job performance.
Google ought to know better, to resist being seduced by data’s false charms. The measure leaves little room for change in a person’s life. It counts book smarts at the expense of knowledge. And it may not reflect the qualifications of people from the humanities, where know-how may be less quantifiable than in science and engineering. Google’s obsession with such data for HR purposes is especially queer considering that the company’s founders are products of Montessori schools, which emphasize learning, not grades. By Google’s standards, neither Bill Gates nor Mark Zuckerberg nor Steve Jobs would have been hired, since they lack college degrees.
Google has sent the US Attorney General a letter asking for permission to publish aggregate statistics on the number of gag-ordered-FISA requests it gets. These requests are secret and not included in Google's "Transparency Report" of government requests.
We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.
Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.
It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.
Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.
Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time.
Charlie Warzel: "THIS is what google's self driving car can see. So basically this thing is going to destroy us all." [via Matt Buchanan]
Technically, lending Bill these particular shades is a terms-of-service violation -- wonder if Google will revoke them?
For years, Viacom has been embroiled in a bizarre lawsuit against Google, asserting that Google had a duty to figure out exactly which videos uploaded by it users infringed on Viacom's copyrights and stop them from showing (Viacom's internal memos showed that they themselves had paid dozens of companies to secretly upload Viacom videos disguised to look as leaked internal footage to YouTube, and that the company's executives had viewed the suit as a way to seize control of YouTube from Google and run it themselves).
Now, yet another court has told Viacom that its legal theory about the duty of online service providers to proactively police its users' uploads is totally, unequivocally WRONG. Viacom has pledged to appeal.
In a ruling released today, the court gave a total victory to Google/YouTube, granting it summary judgment, saying that YouTube was protected from claims of infringement via the DMCA's safe harbors, and mocking Viacom's legal theories at the same time. Might as well jump right in with some quotes, including the money quote that Viacom's legal theory is "extravagant." Elsewhere the judge calls it "ingenious."
Viacom's argument that the volume of material and "the absence of record evidence that would allow a jury to decide which clips-in-suit were specifically known to senior YouTube executives" (Viacom Opp. pp. 9-10) combine to deprive YouTube of the statutory safe harbor, is extravagant. If, as plaintiffs assert, neither side can determine the presence or absence of specific infringements because of the volume of material, that merely demonstrates the wisdom of the legislative requirement that it be the owner of the copyright, or his agent, who identifies the infringement by giving the service provider notice. 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3)(A). The system is entirely workable: in 2007 Viacom itself gave such notice to YouTube of infringements by some 100,000 videos, which were taken down by YouTube by the next business day. See 718 F. Supp. 2d 514 at 524.
Thus, the burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove. Congress has determined that the burden of identifying what must be taken down is to be on the copyright owner, a determination which has proven practicable in practice.
This was the crux of Viacom's argument. That because they could show a lot of infringement, and here and there point to some evidence that some people at YouTube might have known of general infringement, then the burden should be on YouTube. But the court clearly calls them on this, noting that's not what the law says, nor does it make sense. Instead, under the law, the burden is on Viacom and that makes sense.
Reddit co-founder calls Larry Page to get Google to join the anti-CISPA fight -- your help needed too!
Sign the petition, kill CISPA, save the Internet (again!).
Comedy troupe loses YouTube account after viral success of "PS Gay Car," can't get anyone at YT to listen to them
Wil Wheaton sez,
On November 17th, 2012, New York-based comedy music group Fortress of Attitude uploaded a music video they created for their song "PS Gay Car" (using the exact words of a mean note they found on their car one day) to YouTube. The pro-gay rights video was immensely popular, garnering coverage from, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, College Humor and Queerty. The video gained 39,800 views in its first month, and then a month later YouTube took down the video, claiming they'd used bots to drive up views.
The story that unfolds is Kafkaesque: Fortress of Attitude hires New Media Rights to help them get their video reinstated, and Google/YouTube's response is to send form letters back that just restate the alleged initial TOU violation. Ultimately, Google/YouTube refuses to consider any evidence or explanation from Fortress of Attitude, and deletes the video permanently.
On the Guardian, Charles Arthur has totted up the lifespan of 39 products and services that Google has killed off in the past due to insufficient public interest. One interesting finding is that Google is becoming less patient with its less popular progeny, with an accelerating trend to killing off products that aren't cutting it. This was occasioned by the launch of Google Keep, a networked note-taking app which has the potential to become quite central to your workflow, and to be quite disruptive if Google kills it -- much like Google Reader, which is scheduled for impending switch-off.
So if you want to know when Google Keep, opened for business on 21 March 2013, will probably shut - again, assuming Google decides it's just not working - then, the mean suggests the answer is: 18 March 2017. That's about long enough for you to cram lots of information that you might rely on into it; and also long enough for Google to discover that, well, people aren't using it to the extent that it hoped. Much the same as happened with Knol (lifespan: 1,377 days, from 23 July 2008 to 30 April 2012), or Wave (1,095 days, from May 2009 - 30 April 2012) or of course Reader (2,824 days, from 7 October 2005 to 1 July 2013).
If you want to play around further with the numbers, then if we assume that closures occur randomly as a normal distribution around the mean, and that Google is going to shut Google Keep, then there's a 68% chance that the closure will occur between April 2015 and February 2019. Even the later date wouldn't be much longer than Evernote - which is still growing - has already lasted. Is Google really that committed to Keep?
Clueless Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert can't get how Gmail ads work through his thick, thick skull
Rep Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is an ignoramus, as is demonstrated by his questioning during this hearing on reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Gohmert questions a Google rep about how Adwords in Gmail work. For the record, here's how it works: Google parses the email for keywords, checks to see if anyone has bid to have text-ads displayed on emails with those words, and displays ads that match. Here's how Gohmert thinks they work: A computer at Google reads your email, sends your identity to an advertiser, and asks it if it wants to display ads on your email.
Gohmert may have confused Adwords with some of the realtime auctions for display ads. Google rep very patiently, and repeatedly tries to explain this to Gohmert, who refuses to get it, and instead smugly keeps asking whether the government could buy the right to see who's sending what email from Google in the way he imagines (incorrectly) that advertisers do.
If watching the video is too painful, have no fear, TechDirt's Mike Masnick has thoughtfully transcribed some of the choicest moments:
Gohmert: Okay, so what would prevent the federal government from making a deal with Google, so they could also "Scroogle" people, and say "I want to know everyone who has ever used the term 'Benghazi'" or "I want everyone who's ever used... a certain term." Would you discriminate against the government, or would you allow the government to know about all emails that included those words?
Lawyer [confounded look] Uh... sir, I think those are apples and oranges. I think the disclosure of the identity...
Gohmert: I'm not asking for a fruit comparison. I'm just asking would you be willing to make that deal with the government? The same one you do with private advertisers, so that the government would know which emails are using which words.
Lawyer: Thank you, sir. I meant by that, that it isn't the same deal that's being suggested there.
Gohmert: But I'm asking specifically if the same type of deal could be made by the federal government? [some pointless rant about US government videos aired overseas that is completely irrelevant and which it wasn't worth transcribing] But if that same government will spend tens of thousands to do a commercial, they might, under some hare-brained idea like to do a deal to get all the email addresses that use certain words. Couldn't they make that same kind of deal that private advertisers do?
For the record, I think there are real privacy concerns with Gmail's ads, but not the dumbass ones that Gohmert is worried about. Also for the record, Gohmert believes that a trans-Alaskan pipeline will help caribou get more sex; denies climate change; and thinks that school shootings can be averted by giving school principals M-4 rifles.
Ian Hickson, the googler who is overseeing the HTML5 standard at the W3C, has written a surprisingly frank piece on the role of DRM. As he spells out in detail, the point of DRM isn't to stop illegal copying, it's to stop legal forms of innovation from taking place. He shows that companies that deploy DRM do so in order to prevent individuals, groups and companies from innovating in ways that disrupt their profitability:
The purpose of DRM is to give content providers leverage against creators of playback devices.
Content providers have leverage against content distributors, because distributors can't legally distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the content's creators. But if that was the only leverage content producers had, what would happen is that users would obtain their content from those content distributors, and then use third-party content playback systems to read it, letting them do so in whatever manner they wanted.
Here are some examples:
A. Paramount make a movie. A DVD store buys the rights to distribute this movie from Paramount, and sells DVDs. You buy the DVD, and want to play it. Paramount want you to sit through some ads, so they tell the DVD store to put some ads on the DVD labeled as "unskippable".
Without DRM, you take the DVD and stick it into a DVD player that ignores "unskippable" labels, and jump straight to the movie.
A replica of the TWA Moonliner II -- centerpiece of the TWA Moonliner at Disneyland's Tomorrowland from 1955-1962 -- sits atop the old TWA headquarters in Kansas City, MO, at 1795 West Baltimore Ave. This is an important fact that no one brought to my attention in a timely fashion when I was in KC on the Pirate Cinema tour, for which I blame all of you.
Google has announced the imminent shutdown of Google Reader, effective July 1. I use Reader every day, often as the back-end for other RSS reader apps, like the excellent Newsrob for Android, and it's the core of how I blog and stay informed -- over the past several years, I've gradually shifted over from bookmarked tab-groups to feeds -- I used to have hundreds of the former, now it's more like a hundred, and my feeds have ballooned into the thousands.
Various forums have vigorous discussions of Reader readers should do next. Reddit, Hacker News and Lifehacker all give high marks to Newsblur, where I've had a paid account for quite some time. I tried Newsblur a couple years back, and liked it at first blush, but at the time found it too slow and not well enough integrated into Android for my taste. Apparently, both of those issues have improved a lot since those days, though at the moment the whole site appears to be slow due to the enormous attention it's received since the Reader shutdown notice.
What do you use for RSS?
Google Maps has added notorious, secretive North Korean prison camps to its maps of the country. The data is gleaned from user contributions, including a first-person account of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who escaped from Camp 14, a death camp where he was born and raised.
Called Map Maker, Google’s information for the country’s layout comes primarily from visitors and from former citizens who defected, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The mapping idea stemmed in part from a 28-year-old South Korean who tried to use Google maps on a trip to Laos four years ago, but found it unhelpful, at best. He ultimately helped devise the Google map application for North Korea.
“I thought if I could fill in information on North Korea, it might be useful in an emergency or tragedy if Google can provide a map for aid agencies,” the South Korean told the Wall Street Journal.
Google's latest transparency report reveals that the company has refused to turn over stored email to law enforcement unless a warrant is presented. The ancient Electronic Communications Privacy Act assumes that any file stored on a server for more than six months is abandoned and can be requested without a warrant, and Congress has refused to modernize this law for the age of Gmail and cloud storage (law enforcement agencies love the fact that most of your life can be fetched without having to show cause to a judge).
Google has refused to comply with warrantless requests for its users' stored cloud data, and instead demands that law enforcement officers get a warrant.
Google demands probable-cause, court-issued warrants to divulge the contents of Gmail and other cloud-stored documents to authorities in the United States — a startling revelation Wednesday that runs counter to federal law that does not always demand warrants.
The development surfaced as Google publicly announced that more than two-thirds of the user data Google forwards to government agencies across the United States is handed over without a probable-cause warrant.
A Google spokesman told Wired that the media giant demands that government agencies — from the locals to the feds — get a probable-cause warrant for content on its e-mail, Google Drive cloud storage and other platforms — despite the Electronic Communications Privacy Act allowing the government to access such customer data without a warrant if it’s stored on Google’s servers for more than 180 days.
“Google requires an ECPA search warrant for contents of Gmail and other services based on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents unreasonable search and seizure,” Chris Gaither, a Google spokesman, said.
I can't stress how exciting a development this is. Google has historically reserved the right to give docs to law enforcement without a warrant in its terms of service. Indeed, a group of authors asked the court to block the Google Books Settlement unless Google promised not to hand over your reading habits without a warrant. Google refused to do so. It would be wonderful to see Google enshrine "Come back with a warrant" in its terms of service, making it a promise and not just a habit.
Google Tells Cops to Get Warrants for User E-Mail, Cloud Data [Wired/David Kravets]
My latest Guardian column is about positive externalities, the value that bystanders get from the stuff you're already doing:
That's the crux of this irrational fear of positive externalities: "If something I do has value, I deserve a cut." It's one thing to say that someone who hires you to do a job, or purchases your product, should pay you money. But positive externalities are the waste-product of something we were already going to do. They're things that you have thrown away, that you have thrown off, that you have generated in the process of enjoying yourself and living your life.
The mania to internalise your positive externalities is the essence of cutting off your nose to spite your face. I walk down the street whistling a jaunty tune because I'm in a good mood — but stop as soon as I see someone smiling and enjoying the music. I keep my porchlight on to read by on a warm night, but if I catch you using the light to read your map, I switch it off, because those are my photons — I paid for 'em!
Worse still: the infectious idea of internalising externalities turns its victims into grasping, would-be rentiers. You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That's just crazy. It's like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings. Harvesting positive externalities involves collecting billions of minute shreds of residual value – snippets of discarded string –and balling them up into something big and useful.
If every shred needs to be accounted for and paid for, then the harvest won't happen. Paying for every link you make, or every link you count, or every document you analyse is a losing game. Forget payment: the process of figuring out who to pay and how much is owed would totally swamp the expected return from whatever it is you're planning on making out of all those unloved scraps.
Warren Ellis, always a shrewd observer of online media, supposes that we've reached peak social media, the point at which exciting new communications forms ossify into dull media titans:
Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.
This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).
His closing remark is "I wonder if anyone’s been thinking twice about giving up their personal websites." Good question.