April 29, 2010

Steve Jobs Posts Unconvincing Manifesto Against Adobe Flash

Greetings. Steve Jobs has posted a rather detailed condemnation of Adobe's Flash, and has attempted to explain why he hasn't permitted Flash into the iPhone/iPod/iPad ecosystem.

While I would happily see Flash being supplanted over time by HTML5/H.264, HTML5/Ogg Theora, or (perhaps best) HTML5/VP8, I am unimpressed with Steve's posting.

His effort to draw a fine distinction between the closed ecosystem of the iPhone, and the proprietary nature of Flash, was skillful, but still unconvincing.

His argument claiming that users weren't really missing much useful video by not having Flash seemed disingenuous and unrealistic. Flash support is still required to view videos on the vast majority of video-supporting Web sites.

His technical complaints regarding Flash have some merit of course.

But SO WHAT? Adobe was willing to do essentially all of the development work for Flash support, and Apple needed basically only to have permitted it onto the associated platforms. If users didn't want to use Flash (say, because they wanted a better touch interface or longer battery life -- two issues Steve discussed) nobody would put a gun to users' heads forcing them to use Flash anyway. An option to disable Flash could have been easily made available.


Clearly, the real problem that Steve Jobs has with Flash is that someone other than Apple has control over it. And the guiding principle of the iPhone/iPod/iPad ecosystem is Apple Controls All.

Sorry Steve. Nice try. Well written. But it just doesn't fly.


Posted by Lauren at 09:44 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 26, 2010

Atrocious Ethics Galore in the "Lost iPhone" Case

Greetings. An extremely interesting analysis of the ongoing "lost next-generation iPhone" case has appeared over on Daring Fireball -- it's very much worth reading.

I agree very much with the thrust of that article.

And now let's bring some ethical analysis explicitly into the mix as well.

The behavior of the iPhone "finder" -- who then sold the phone to Gizmodo -- and Gizmodo's actions, were both ethically atrocious.

Gizmodo, in their desire for a scoop, appears to have willingly committed acts that were obviously unethical (and in the current case quite possibly illegal). This is a pattern we see all too often in high-tech particularly when it comes to ethics, and indeed specifically on the Internet. In a rush to "monetization," basic ethics -- of the kind that your parents hopefully taught you when you were a child -- can get tossed aside as inconvenient bottlenecks. Facebook's recent privacy-abusive actions come particularly to mind in this ethical context.

Right now the Net is all abuzz about the police raid on the Gizmodo editor's home. I'll let law enforcement, lawyers, and perhaps the courts figure that one out. But I'm also seeing a new meme being established calling Apple a "thug" in relation to that raid, as if the officers involved were members of a private Apple security force.

As regular readers know, I'm no Apple fanboy. And I'm already on record as recommending that Apple not seriously punish the engineer who lost the iPhone, nor pursue civil litigation in this case.

But the new attempts to shift blame to Apple are disingenuous, and the associated ethical abominations committed by both the iPhone "finder/seller," and by Gizmodo as the iPhone "buyer/disassembler/publicizer," are cast in stone regardless of whether or not criminal and/or civil charges are ever filed in this matter, and irrespective of whether or not the police raid was actually appropriate.

If the finder of the iPhone who sold it to Gizmodo for $5K, and Gizmodo as well who willingly paid the money, had both behaved ethically in the first place, this entire mess could have been avoided, and many observers, including myself, wouldn't feel so utterly disgusted at the behavior of some presumably smart techies who really should have known better.


Posted by Lauren at 11:06 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 23, 2010

Video: Solving Your Facebook Privacy Problems in 2.5 Minutes (with a Bit Of Style)

Greetings. Privacy-related concerns surrounding Facebook continue to escalate. Now anxiety levels are boosting even more rapidly with the unveiling of Facebook's new "Instant Personalization" system and its potential for massive expansion of personal information gathering from -- and sharing with -- other sites. Meanwhile, many observers feel that managing Facebook's convoluted array of privacy settings is just too opaque and unnecessarily complex for many users.

But this really isn't being fair to Facebook. While it may not be obvious, Facebook does provide a procedure -- if you know where to find it and how to use it -- that can fairly quickly limit your Facebook personal information to acceptable levels, at least to the extent that other sites don't already have that data within their grasps.

I've put together a very short YouTube video that demonstrates the process (I recommend viewing it fullscreen -- and 720p HD -- if possible).

Solving Your Facebook Privacy Problems in 2.5 Minutes (with a Bit Of Style)

"If you can't be good, be careful."


Posted by Lauren at 02:21 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 19, 2010

Beware the "Google Voice" Phishing Attack!

Greetings. Earlier today a reader sent me an example of a phishing attack that they (and I) had not seen before. Before I could do much with it, someone else sent me another example of the same attack.

Neither of these parties are easily fooled by faked e-mail, but one of them told me that they had almost clicked on the "payload" link this time, so it's probably worth paying this particular nasty a bit of extra attention.

Designed to look like either a Google Voice Invite and/or a Google Voice "message waiting" notification, this Google Voice phish is either very sloppy, very clever, or perhaps so sloppy that it became unintentionally clever.

Here is an annotated image of the phishing message.

You'll note that it initially appears to be a Google Voice invitation message, but also includes an apparent waiting voicemail message link. Contradictory, yes, but people tend to "home in" on what they expect to see, and in this case the message pretty much has "something for everyone."

The message also includes a reasonable Google Voice logo -- this is important to grab people's attention quickly.

The time zone on the message is wacky. But would you notice at first glance?

The silliest part is the misspelling evident in "gogle.com" -- but curious persons who might look up that domain would find that it actually is (presumably protectively) registered to Google, Inc.!

The "guts" of the message -- the payload so to speak -- relates to the URL associated with the "Play message" link. If we mouse over the link, we can see the actual URL (at least most of it), which begins like a realistic Google URL, but quickly degenerates into a contortion that leads the investigator into a maze of apparently crooked domain registrations.

What happens to people who actually click that "Play message" link? I don't know, but odds are that it's nothing pleasant!

Before you say, "Hell, I'd never fall for that garbage!" -- keep in mind how much e-mail many people receive and how quickly they plow through it. A quick glance at a message with a Google voice logo and an obvious "Play" link will in many cases likely be enough to trigger a reflexive mouse click.

In the time it's taken to write this all up, a third person has reported a similar phish to me.

The moral of the story is a simple one. Stay alert. Be aware. And to paraphrase Quintus Arrius in Ben-Hur, "Click well, and live."


Posted by Lauren at 05:00 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 16, 2010

Saving Internet Anonymity -- The Struggle is Joined

Greetings. What's the fundamental problem with "cyberspace" -- that is, the Internet?

There are various issues to choose from, but if you didn't put "anonymity" near the top of your list, you're not alone.

Yet the drumbeat from the self-appointed guardians of our Internet safety -- calling for "the end" of Internet anonymity -- is growing ever stronger, and with it are increasingly shrill calls for some form of verifiable ID that could (proponents hope) track your every move on the Internet and on every connected site.

This of course is the wet dream both of law enforcement with usually laudable goals, and of totalitarian governments (or would-be, could-be, once-were, or might-become totalitarian governments) who are increasingly cowed by the raw power of communications -- not subject to easy centralized control or muzzling -- that the Internet provides ordinary people.

So the bogeymen of Internet nightmares, like the "bad trips" of a thousand geeks on acid, are being trotted out into the public discourse with increasing frequency and ever-escalating levels of doomsday rhetoric.

A couple of months ago, in Microsoft's Police State Vision? Exec Calls for Internet "Driver's Licenses" and Google and the Battle for the Soul of the Internet I touched on some of these issues, and I noted not only why anonymity was important -- even though it can be abused -- but how attempts to stamp out anonymity will tend to negatively impact honest citizens much more than criminals or terrorists -- and creates enormous risks of governmental abuses down the line.

Now comes word that at a "cybersecurity conference" sponsored by Russia and held in Germany, some notable Russian and U.S. attendees were in agreement that the basic evil of the Internet is the existence of anonymous usage.

The clarity with which some attendees have divined anonymity as -- they hope we believe -- our vicious and powerful adversary was notable in the absolute conviction of their statements.

"Anonymity is an invitation to criminals," said Col. Gen. Boris N. Miroshnikov of the Russian Interior Ministry -- an organization that certainly has well understood both the "big picture" and the minutia of running a police state at various times in its history.

Chiming in agreement: "Anonymity is the fundamental problem we face in cyberspace" -- was Stewart A. Baker, fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and former chief counsel for masters of SIGINT -- communications interception and intelligence behemoth NSA -- the National Security Agency.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to foresee the direction in which these parties would very much like to take their arguments. The basic strategy of such "political" battles hasn't changed very much in more than two thousand years.

Just as some anti-Net Neutrality groups have chosen a designated enemy -- Google -- as their scapegoat for Big Lie arguments, we're now seeing the specter of the Internet Criminal -- the Internet Terrorist, being groomed to serve in the call for universal Internet user identification and control. Straw man fallacies, exaggerations, misrepresentations, and a heady dose of "Do it for the children!" will be invoked like demons called forth from the pages of the "Necronomicon."

Needless to say, this will not be a war of a mere few skirmishes or a single major battle. This will likely be an extended struggle -- in legislatures, courtrooms, and the courts of public opinion around the world -- for control over a critical aspect of the very soul of the Internet -- plus the hearts and minds of its users.

It's up to us. The struggle is joined.


Posted by Lauren at 09:23 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

Privacy Questions About the New "Google Cloud Print" Service

Greetings. Google Labs has just published preliminary specifications (and an associated call for comments and feedback) for a "print anywhere" service that they are implementing, called "Google Cloud Print."

The project has the very laudable goal of reducing OS print stack complexities and enabling the ability for users of the Google Chrome OS (and potentially other systems) to send print jobs to any cooperating printer, anywhere in the world. Google hopes that printer manufacturers (or third parties) will implement supporting protocols in printer firmware, though for now proxy software will be used to bridge between users and hardware.

It is not immediately clear to me from the available documents to what extent this model would ultimately be extended to the Google Chrome browser.

While the goal of "universal printing" is wonderful, there are some tricky non-technical issues that immediately come to mind.

For example, the Google documentation states:

"Google Chrome OS will use Google Cloud Print for all printing. There is no print stack and there are no printer drivers on Google Chrome OS!"

This has two immediate and obvious implications. It would appear that if you don't have an Internet connection at any given time, you would seemingly have no way to print under this model. And perhaps of even greater concern to some individuals and organizations, any document that you wished to print would need to transmitted off of the local system for cloud processing before it could even print on a printer attached to the same local computer.

While Google explicitly assumes that various organizations will implement their own cloud processing services that meet the required specs, at least initially (and presumably for most users for some time to come) Google itself would be the likely cloud print processor.

The willingness of individuals to send sensitive print jobs through a remote processing point, simply to have them end up back on the printer sitting on the desk next to them, seems problematic in at least some cases. Firms or organizations with ongoing security concerns and related policies (law firms, law enforcement, other government agencies, and so on) may also balk at this model (or simply be prevented from using it due to privacy and/or security regulations) -- even if high-grade encryption protects the documents in transit and the cloud processing service promises to delete all associated data immediately after print processing.

Google's Chromium OS holds a great deal of promise, and I have very high hopes for its wide deployment and success. But my gut feeling is that any OS or system that depends solely on remote processing for local printer operations will find its adoption hobbled in many environments by the kinds of concerns discussed above.

While I most definitely understand the technical attraction of reducing local print processing complexity, I would urge reconsideration of the assumption that a 100% reliance (as I read the documents, anyway) on cloud-based printing can be an adequate substitute for at least basic local printing capabilities that do not depend on Internet connections and cloud services to operate.


Posted by Lauren at 01:24 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 14, 2010

Google, Others Help Yahoo Fight DOJ E-Mail Snooping

Greetings. In Charles Dickens' classic novel Oliver Twist, the character of Mr. Bumble is chastised that "The law supposes that your wife acts under your direction." He replies that "If the law supposes that ... the law is a ass—a idiot."

How little has changed.

Google and a number of prominent pro-privacy groups have come to Yahoo's defense in its attempt to fight off intrusive efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to gain access to stored e-mail contents without warrants.

The Obama DOJ is even trying to go far beyond one of the most ludicrous aspects of current privacy laws, a section that I call the "Cinderella Clause."

You'll recall that most of Cinderella's goodies (clothes, coach, footmen, etc. -- all courtesy of her handy fairy godmother) reverted to their original mundane aspects at the stroke of midnight.

There's a similar effect in our privacy laws, with potentially even more devastating consequences.

U.S. federal law normally requires search warrants to access remote e-mail contents in "electronic storage" that are less than 181 days old (approximately six months). After 181 days, all bets (and most legal protections) are off. As far as the federal government is concerned at that point, you stand naked before their demands for your e-mail, whomever is holding it at the time -- other than yourself (more on this in a moment).

Disturbingly, the Obama administration is pushing this perverse situation much farther into the Bizarro World, by claiming that even if e-mail is less than 181 days old, once "opened" by users it no longer is in "electronic storage," and so should be available to the government without warrant regardless of how short a time it has existed.

The claimed concept that opened e-mail is no longer in "electronic storage" may come as quite a surprise to technologists (like myself) who were previously unaware of the fact that opening an e-mail message instantly transformed it (cue the magic wand!) from bits and bytes on spinning disks into something apparently much closer akin to cottage cheese.

This is insanity of course -- as Mr. Bumble would likely recognize.

But the same rules don't apply for e-mail that you have stored locally on your own computers -- your legal protections are currently higher in such a case.

This reality divergence is intolerable, and is a main reason why Google, Microsoft, AT&T, and an extraordinary range of other groups recently joined forces as the Digital Due Process coalition, calling for a rewrite of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which created much of this twisted situation in the first place.

Their goal is to change the law to require the highest possible privacy standards for e-mail users regardless of where e-mail is stored (and irrespective of whether or not is has been opened by the recipient, for that matter). In particular, search warrants should be required for any access to e-mail contents.

I wholeheartedly support this effort to update the ECPA and bring common sense back to e-mail privacy. It is intolerable that cloud computing services and their users should be hobbled by the existing disparity affecting the privacy of e-mail.

In the meantime, keep in mind that the fellow knocking on the door of your e-mail provider, demanding access to your e-mail contents, probably isn't a prince holding a recently discovered glass slipper.


Update (April 17, 2010): DOJ has now abandoned their effort to obtain the e-mail in question.

Posted by Lauren at 01:57 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 13, 2010

Will Twitter's New Ad Plan Backfire?

Greetings. As a somewhat enthusiastic Twitter user (@laurenweinstein) I've been waiting for quite some time to hear about Twitter's advertising/monetization plans for their service.

We need wait no longer, as Twitter has now made their ad paradigm quite explicit, and perhaps not surprisingly, this includes ultimately inserting ads ("promoted tweets") directly into Twitter users' tweeting timelines across all Twitter-capable platforms -- at least that's the very strong implication.

As regular readers know, I am most definitely not an Internet ad hater, nor a promoter of ad blocking (e.g. see: Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper).

But as I consider the implications of ads within Twitter timelines, a whole set of interesting issues comes to mind -- most of which are likely to be exacerbated by the linear, serial nature of most persons' Twitter usage, frequently through specialized, API-based desktop display applications.

Many Twitter users -- especially those who (in their own opinions, anyway) use Twitter mainly for comparatively serious purposes -- tend to be rather protective of their timelines. Twitter timelines often are viewed as something of a "publicly private" space --- open but to a degree controlled. Twitter obviously recognized this early on, by providing a mechanism for users to block any other Twitter user from a given timeline.

But we can assume that Twitter won't be handing us an easy means for blocking in-timeline Twitter ads. And such ads will be particularly difficult to ignore, as they'll likely appear seemingly at random amidst other discussions, and right there mixed in with everything else -- not off to the side somewhere like a more conventional Web page ad. (Twitter is talking about ads staying at the top of search results in their current search implementation, but it isn't clear to me at this point how they could avoid mixing ads in with conventional timeline streams in existing API-based Twitter display implementations.)

As the Wicked Witch of the West might have warned Twitter, this is going to have to be handled "very delicately" -- because the opportunities for pushback are numerous.

Many firms, organizations, government entities, government officials, and of course all manner of ordinary folks who use Twitter may not take kindly to seeing explicit ads in their streams -- especially if they've taken care to weed out spammers in the past. Commercial ads in government streams seem especially problematic. Ads for competing products and services in corporate Twitter timelines may not be particularly appreciated by the "owners" of those Twitter accounts.

Of course Twitter could offer ad-free accounts to governments and the like, and even could provide paid "premium" ad-free accounts that anybody could buy.

But it seems likely that some Twitter users will find their own creative ways to "strike back" if they find Twitter advertising to be annoying.

Specialized programs to prevent the display of Twitter ads would seem a near certainty to be developed, depending on the ease with which Twitter advertising could be programmatically identified going forward -- though this doesn't remove the actual ads from the timelines.

A more low-tech approach that many Twitter users are likely to take -- given that the ads will be so "in your face" directly in their timelines, would be to immediately retort with nasty comments about the products or services being promoted. The ease with which such comments could be quickly retweeted would make this approach almost irresistible to many persons. And we'd likely see the development of automatic Twitter "robots" to perform the same functions automatically.

If you're an adherent to the "any publicity is good publicity" school of advertising, the increased name recognition that such tweeting and retweeting might engender could perhaps be viewed as a positive multiplier effect on any given ad-buy reach.

On the other hand, if your ads annoy a Twitter user with followers who tend to respect that users' opinions, do you necessarily want to see reply tweets going out to a thousand or a million persons along the lines of: "That product really sucks big time. I wouldn't use it if you paid me. I hope someone files a class action lawsuit against those crooks! You're far better off using ..."

Hmm ...

Fundamentally, what I'm suggesting is that the social and psychological dynamics of how people will react to seeing uninvited ads in Twitter timelines is obviously very much an unknown, and I would assert that trying to draw comparisons from other social networking ecosystems (or other Web advertising models in general) may not yield trustworthy or representative data points for comparison.

Once Twitter actually does start inserting ads into timelines, we should see the reality of reactions in short order.

{{{ Woodland Hills homemaker finds secret teeth whitening technique! Click here! }}}

It promises to be interesting.


Posted by Lauren at 03:48 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 10, 2010

ISP Accused of "Hijacking" Google Search Queries and Subscribers' DNS

Greetings. All of the data on this situation isn't in yet, but on its face this appears to be an extremely problematic situation, seemingly involving ISP "hijacking" of their subscribers' Google-related traffic.

Here's what we have so far, based on reports to date. When reading this, please also keep in mind the Testing Your Internet Connection for ISP DNS Diversions page from NNSquad (more on this below).

Apparently a few days ago, users of Windstream ISP services suddenly discovered that their Firefox-based Google toolbar search queries were being diverted by Windstream to an alternate Windstream-associated search service, through some form of DNS redirection.

Complaints by subscribers resulted in confusing responses from Windstream, including the statement that the purpose of their redirection was only to deal with unresolved site lookups and that an opt-out was available. (Over on NNSquad, we've frequently discussed the unacceptability of such diversions on anything other than an opt-in basis.)

Shortly after the initial Windstream explanation, a Windstream employee apparently said that:

"We will be making a change to this service tonight based on feedback from our customers who wish to continue to use Google for the search box. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused."

This is a most remarkable statement -- since it appears to imply that the diversion was not a mistake, but may have been an intentional redirection of Google-related traffic. After all, if someone is using a Google search toolbar, one would typically assume that they want Google to supply the search results, right? You don't need rocket science to figure this out.

Of particular concern are reports that these changes affected subscribers who were not using Windstream's DNS servers, but who had manually changed their DNS settings to other servers such as OpenDNS or Google DNS. If these reports are correct, they imply that Windstream was tampering with protocols via DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) techniques, which elevates the severity of the situation to an even higher level, regardless of whether or not "opt-out" mechanisms of varying effectiveness were provided.

Many Windstream subscribers are very concerned about the privacy implications of this situation, and the apparent unwillingness of Windstream to clearly explain what they are doing and whether or not the diversion of Google search queries was intentional or accidental in the first place.

This all appears to be a very serious situation, and exactly the sort of problem many of us have been warning about for years.

The first useful step moving forward regarding this matter should be for Windstream to immediately and definitively come clean publicly about what they did, what they are doing, and what their true intentions were and are.

In the meantime, I invite Windstream (and other ISP) subscribers to use the info on the NNSquad Testing Your Internet Connection for ISP DNS Diversions page to test their ISP for DNS tampering, and to report results to me as described on that page.

DNS tampering is unacceptable and can easily create all manner of collateral damage. Interfering with Google's (or anyone else's) users is atrocious, especially if done purposely.

This is all yet another example of why moving toward reasonable regulation of the Internet access industry is so critically important.


Posted by Lauren at 12:08 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 08, 2010

New Google and YouTube Q&A/Discussion Forums: Will They Reduce the "Google Mail" Deluge?

Greetings. First, the Executive Summary: I've created some new forums for questions, discussions, opinions, and related matters associated with Google, YouTube, and other Google-related services. They can be accessed via Google, YouTube, and More (GYM). The forums are unmoderated, but are subject to these usage guidelines. Registered users can reply to previous threads, create new threads, and even add discussions to FAQ entries. I hope the new forums can be of some value to the community.

Now for the longer explanation. Here are some stats that you haven't seen before. On any average day, I now receive close to 1K legit, non-spam e-mail messages. About one-third of these are from mailing lists or other sources that can be reasonably sorted via at least partly automated techniques, then perused as time permits. The remaining two-thirds (what I call the "action group") need some level of more immediate personal attention -- the majority merit some sort of reply (at least to acknowledge their receipt).

More than half of the "action group" e-mails now typically involve Google in some manner -- that's usually hundreds of Google-related messages each day -- day in and day out.

They cover a wide range -- from the straightforwardly logical to the bizarrely conspiratorial, from issue-oriented queries, to requests for assistance understanding how to use particular Google services, to pleas for help from persons having real or assumed problems associated with Google services and/or who have been unable to get any response from Google despite repeated attempts to contact Google directly.

A logical question at this stage would be -- uh, why do they come to me? The reason usually seems pretty clear. People start to Google Search about their Google-related thoughts or concerns -- sometimes even specifically looking for a Google Ombudsman, and find references to my many essays, discussions, quotes, and other materials where I've attempted to illuminate and analyze a wide range of Google-related issues over what's become a quite significant period of time. They find my contact info (always easily available by design) and send their comments and queries to me, in the hope that I can do something useful to explain, help, or whatever.

Sometimes I can be of assistance, and sometimes I can't. But I have a policy of trying to respond to every single such message in a substantive way. Some messages I can answer partly or completely from my ever-growing collection of pre-written texts that I've composed over the years on different Google topics. More often than not I need to write a specific reply -- sometimes researching new aspects of issues in the process.

None of this is my job. In fact, the time spent this way now greatly impinges on my time available for the very important -- nay, critical -- goal of finding paying work. On the other hand, I am unwilling to just "blow off" persons who have taken the time to compose sometimes extremely detailed messages and are often pleading for explanations or assistance in their dealings with Google.

But the volume of Google-related queries continues to increase, and without a significant change in my overall circumstances, I need to find some way to offload some of this for now at least.

That's where I hope that the new Google, YouTube, and More (GYM) forums can especially help. By providing a venue where Google users can pose queries, offer comments, and engage in open discussions, my goal is to build up a resource that will be able to help answer many routine queries without my direct intervention -- though I will always be staying on top of the discussions and certainly will be participating in many of them. And I'll continue to deal with as many direct e-mail queries related to Google as I can (though I may refer some senders to the forums as appropriate if good answers are already there).

A number of different sub-topics are currently defined in the GYM forums for various sorts of Google-related questions and comments, and as I noted above an FAQ section is present as well (which I've only begun to seed with entries from my large collection of writings in response to individual queries over time).

Ideally, none of this should be necessary, certainly not on the part of an individual not employed by Google. But it's the best compromise I can come up with for now.

We'll see how it goes.


Posted by Lauren at 07:33 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 06, 2010

Altering Videos: White House "West Wing Week" Video Blog REMIX

Greetings. When we put information on the Internet, there's a natural tendency to assume that we essentially maintain control -- to a significant extent at least -- over the form that the associated data takes. At a minimum, many of us probably don't usually consider the extent to which posted items could be subjected to major outside alterations (whether for good or ill purposes).

Yet the reality is actually rather clear. With virtually anything that's posted on the Net in publicly available locations, there's no telling what sorts of transformations might potentially be in the offing.

This can be particularly true -- in terms of powerful impacts -- with videos. Just because you've posted a video on YouTube, for example, doesn't mean that someone else won't find the "raw materials" of your production irresistible for other purposes.

Experimental case in point -- The White House.

President Barack Obama's administration has just begun posting a "video blog" called "West Wing Week."

The initial offering is viewable at the official White House Web site. It contains some interesting clips and certainly well serves its purpose of providing basic information about administration activities over the prior week. However, it is a bit lengthy at over seven minutes, and -- no disrespect meant -- is rather on the bland side.

A question -- what can we do with this (as it happens, explicitly public domain) presentation -- without adding any new footage -- to morph the original into a video with a very different sort of impact?

With apologies in advance to the White House Staff, let's find out.

First, we can lose the narration (better to let the clips tell the story whenever possible). We'll whip out the ol' digital razor blade, layer in a more comprehensive musical score, then slice and dice and even color correct VP Joe Biden (whose face could never have really been that red in real life, even on a bad day). And before we're done, let's chop at least a couple of minutes off of the total runtime.

The result, West Wing Week REMIX (YouTube) is an example of how by using only the Internet and commonly available digital editing tools (and a bit of imagination, I'll admit) the entire "feel" of a posted video can be significantly altered.

In this specific case, the end result might be viewed in some quarters as arguably enhancing some of the original video's fundamental messages -- but even if this happens to be so, that's not the point.

The same sorts of techniques could be used to undermine or distort easily accessible and alterable Internet videos in ways that could be completely antithetical to the works' original orientations and purposes. And since a properly managed digital workflow typically creates minimal quality degradations to the underlying video and audio tracks, the ability of nonspecialist outside observers to readily detect altered versions may be very limited.

An interesting experiment, indeed.

Just a little something to keep in mind as we (to paraphrase the late Tom Snyder), fire up the computer, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the Net.


Posted by Lauren at 09:57 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

April 01, 2010

Microsoft to Transition Corporate IT to Google Apps

[ Update: April 7, 2010: Yes, this was an April Fools' Day Posting! ]

REDMOND, Wash., April 1 /PRNewzwire/ -- In a move that may surprise some industry onlookers, but that is being described by a company spokesman as "making incredible sense at the bottom line," Microsoft Corporation announced today that it will begin migrating its corporate information technology operations to archrival Google's "Google Apps" Internet "cloud"-based services environment by the start of the third quarter this year.

"We've gone over the numbers more ways than you can crash Vista, said Herman Morander of the newly formed "Microogly" working group at the software giant's Washington State headquarters. "We're going to save millions -- maybe billions! -- by moving most of our employees over to free Google Apps services like Gmail. Plus we'll be freeing up resources here to concentrate on our core competencies like Flight Simulator and stylus-based mobile phone operating systems."

Asked if the $50/user/year "Google Apps for Business" services tier might be more appropriate for Microsoft's use, Morander noted that, "Some of our top executives' needs will likely justify that level of expenditure, but most of us will be able to do just fine with the very generous allotments in the free versions of Google Apps. Seven gigs of storage is more than enough to hold all of my Microsoft internal correspondence, plus most of my uuencoded porn collection! Every Microsoft employee will be assigned a nondescript alias for Gmail use to avoid attracting Google's attention -- for instance, I'm bangloryman@gmail.com."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emphasized that Microsoft's move to Google Apps only involved Microsoft's internal global corporate operations, and would not in any way impact customer-facing services such as Microsoft's popular "Bing" decision engine.

"Given Microsoft's intense desire to enthusiastically embrace the diverse and expansive censorship requirements of our partners in the Chinese government, and Google's apparent reluctance to meet those same requirements, we'll definitely be keeping our Bing and other related public-use servers running on their current CP/M Windows 98 secure clusters into the foreseeable future," Ballmer promised.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

SOURCE Microsoft Corp.

- - -


Posted by Lauren at 12:24 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein