Category Archives: Interesting Items

Things the staff found interesting, or fun.

Is Google Getting Too Big?

Google, the most widely-used search engine on Earth, is involved in much more than noting LOLcat links. It has both gobbled up products and services and come up with its own, ranging from a host of online tools to physical products like Android smartphones and even driverless cars. Their product list features no less than 47 categories of online services, 7 just under “Specialized Search”. Despite the occasional misstep like Google Glass, it’s been an amazing success story. However, recent developments may cause some wondering at the extent of the company’s influence and ambition. In Europe, for instance, Google has been under investigation for 4 years for antitrust violations. Complaints have come from publishers in Germany and in Spain, as well as Microsoft Europe and travel sites, including Expedia and TripAdvisor in the US. CEO Eric Schmidt is set to visit next week to work things out. The stakes are quite high; the company could be fined billions of dollars. He also needs to address the raft of complaints on privacy violations. Europe’s “digital czar”, Günther Oettinger, recently fired off a blast at Google and Facebook, warning of the US giants’ exploiting Europeans by harvesting and selling their personal data. He called for a single European-wide law to protect their data privacy, and has spoken ominously of taxing American companies operating there. Investigation into antitrust charges has also begun in Russia after a complaint from a native search engine company. … Continue reading

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Crunch Time for Net Neutrality

On February 26th, the entire fate of the Internet and the future of all humanity will be decided. Or at least, that’s the impression one could get from the wild rhetoric swirling around the upcoming possibly-historic decision by the FCC on Net Neutrality. This is the principle that all data packets on the Internet should be treated the same way, without preferential treatment regarding speed, content, or destination, as they proceed across the Internet. The Commissioners are finally putting the whole contentious issue to an actual vote, but despite the clarions of doom blasting on all sides, the issues are not quite as good v. evil as either side one makes out, whichever side one chooses. The debate has greatly muddled everything, even within the FCC. There are dire warnings of government Internet regulation and worse, taxation, up against fragmenting of the Internet into superhighways with all the goodies for the rich and dirt trails and dustbins for everybody else. The battle will be fought until the very last minute. At issue is whether the Internet should be regulated as an utility instead of as an “information service”. It’s not that simple, of course. But despite all the sound and the fury, the battle lines are clear enough. On the pro-Net Neutrality side are the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Foundation. On the other are the big broadband carriers – Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T in particular – … Continue reading

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Remembering Once and Future Losses on January 28

The fourth week of January is usually cold, dark, bitter and dreary here in the Northern Hemisphere. With the brightness and excitement of the holidays faded away, summer is a distant memory and cabin fever grows, and yet there are scant signs that life and hope will ever return. This makes it an oddly appropriate time to pause and contemplate the price of technological progress, what is lost when things go bad, and how to prevent such in the future. And indeed on January 28, there is not one but two solemn “celebrations” for just that purpose. For the twenty-eighth of the first month of the year is both NASA’s Day of Remembrance and also Data Privacy and Protection Day. They couldn’t be more unalike, this solemn memorial to America’s fallen star-voyagers and this reminder of the importance of safeguarding our personal data online, yet there are commonalities. Most fatalities in the space program occurred at least partly because of complacency and over-confidence, traits which are also in abundance on the Net. In both arenas, stakes are high, technology is complex, and vigilance and knowing what you’re doing is vital. This is not to equate the risks or consequences of the two fields in any way. But space travel and the Internet are technological contemporaries, born and developed under the shadow of the Cold War, nurtured by the same military industrial complex. Thus both share the same mindset of gee-whiz … Continue reading

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