August 30, 2012

Lauren's Handy Guide for Detecting and Dealing with Trolls on Google+

1) Trolls virtually always appear very suddenly, like a big, painful, pus-filled pimple. Typically they emerge (like a daemon from Hell) as a provocative comment on your thread, and it's the first time you've ever heard of this individual. They are not to be confused with spammers, who represent a related (but largely orthogonal) class of social networking vermin.

2) Your first impressions regarding whether or not a comment has been generated by a troll will almost always be accurate. That is, if your gut reaction to a comment is that you're being trolled, you will likely be very accurate in that appraisal. Outrageous and/or highly provocative statements designed to trigger emotional responses are their hallmark. Occasionally you'll come up against a troll who takes a slower approach and attempts to draw you into a what appears to be a reasonable argument, but this is quite rare since most trolls aim to do maximal damage to as many threads as they can, as quickly as possible.

3) "Professional" trolls ("pro-trolls") usually prowl public G+ postings explicitly looking to spread disinformation and propaganda -- or even "simply" to disrupt threads -- in furtherance of specific goals, often politically or racially oriented. Some of these trolls work in organized packs, sometimes with serious funding behind them as systematic social networking disruption agents. Despite the tone of their postings, professional trolls are usually not actually nuts or idiots, and are very goal-oriented.

4) Freelance ("opportunistic") trolls usually work alone, and unlike "professional" trolls, they often *are* nuts and/or idiots. Their comments will be at least as provocative as those of pro-trolls, but may tend toward higher levels of wackiness that expose their lack of true goal orientation.

5) Both in the case of freelance and pro-trolls, a quick examination of their G+ profiles and postings is usually extremely useful to verify their status prior to blocking. Dead giveaways of their "trollness" include either a stream of nearly identical postings, a variety of postings that tend to all be concentrated within the "troll zone" of inanities, or very few (even zero) postings of their own at all, the latter suggesting that they rapidly create new accounts as their previous ones become heavily blocked.

6) Without exception, trolls should be *immediately* blocked when detected. Unless threats or the like are involved, it is usually not necessary nor appropriate to also report their profiles. I recommend blocking troll profiles quickly and mercilessly, and not even bothering to flag the individual comments, again unless threats or other illicit behavior are involved. In cases of threats, etc., you may want to flag the individual comments, then block and report the troll's account.

7) It is usually good practice to delete a troll's comments from your thread, to avoid later legitimate commenters being drawn into the maelstrom. You may also wish to strongly consider deleting any responses to the troll that fed the beast, especially since leaving those other comments in place after deleting the troll's comments tends to leave a disjoint comment flow that can be difficult for later readers to understand.

8) Whenever you block/report a troll, and/or delete their own comments and possibly other related comments, consider adding *your own* comment on the thread explaining what you have done. A note as simple as "Troll blocked and associated comments deleted" will usually be adequate.

9) Most importantly, show trolls absolutely no mercy. Block them immediately. Your threads are your responsibility, and you are under no obligation to host comments designed as weapons of destruction. Individual trolls rarely return -- they usually move on quickly to greener pastures. Their entire purpose is disruption through asymmetric attacks. You should feel absolutely no hesitation at blocking them, and no compunction for having done so. The saying *Do Not Feed The Trolls* (DNFTT) holds true. Do not engage them in conversation. Do not argue with them -- you might as well be arguing with a roll of toilet paper. Block them now. Report them if necessary. Clean up any damage they've done to your threads by removing their comments and related comments that could waste the time of other readers.

- - -

The wonders of social networking can only stay wonderful if we take individual responsibility to moderate, manage, and curate our threads, on Google+ or anywhere else.

This means taking our roles as thread creators very seriously, and not enduring the presence of trolls on our threads at any time -- not for any reason. No excuses. No exceptions.

Together we can help make Google+ as troll-free as possible. Human nature being what it is, we will never be entirely successful at this effort. But we can certainly give it the ol' college try.


Posted by Lauren at 04:15 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 28, 2012

Google and the Controversial Case of the Vanishing Vitamins

For well over a week now, my inbox (always replete with Google-related queries) has been overflowing with questions, concerns, complaints -- and in some cases very upset commentaries -- regarding a supposed case of Google censorship.

What is supposedly being censored, you might ask?

Is it political speech? Sexual imagery? Some unsavory combination of these categories?


Folks are filling my disks with concerns about the apparent removal of vitamins, dietary supplements, and other related "natural products" merchandise from Google Shopping.

Most of the complaints date back to this posting in Natural News on 19 August.

A much angrier essay from yesterday demonstrates the depth of feelings involved in some quarters.

Even before those articles were published and most definitely since then, I've received many independent anecdotal reports about this from Google users -- unable to get any answers directly from Google -- asking what's actually going on.

Unsurprisingly, in the absence of accurate information on this score, an "evil Google censorship" meme has been flourishing.

What's really going on?

First, it's important to stipulate that we're talking about Google Shopping, not the primary Google Search. It was recently announced that Google Shopping would be switching to a fully merchant-fee based system, with quality control over listed items being a primary focus.

I think this may be our first clue regarding the controversy at issue.

What does Google have to say about all this?

I spoke with them at some length yesterday. The word is that very shortly, perhaps even within the next couple of weeks, many of what I would term to be associated "foundational" products should be returning to Google Shopping.

Vitamin C, shampoos -- things like that.

Google is currently engaged in the technical process of categorizing the kinds of merchandise that will return, and arranging for deployment.

But what of the remaining types of products that have reportedly vanished and apparently will not be returning at this time? Why were they removed in the first place?

Google won't say directly. And while as we've discussed many times in the past Google still really needs to improve its communications transparency (within the bounds of avoiding people "gaming" the system), I believe it is possible to read between the lines a bit in this case.

Think about it. People claiming "evil censorship" by Google aren't making any sense.

Why would Google drop products if they didn't feel there was some really important reason? What is the possible benefit of actually refusing to accept the significant income that could come from such listings if they were permitted? And remember, Google's competitors are still reportedly carrying the kinds of listings that Google has dropped. Google isn't going to put itself in a competitive disadvantage in these product categories in an illogical manner.

Google doesn't act randomly. There must be some logical explanation.

And I'm guessing that it essentially boils down to the old idiom, "Once bitten, twice shy."

You'll recall that almost exactly a year ago, it cost Google something like $500 million to settle the AdWords "illegal pharmacy listings" case with the U.S. government.

While Google's actual culpability in this matter always struck me as highly questionable, the bottom line is that they did agree to the settlement, and a situation like this is likely to cause one to be extremely careful about anything that might be considered to be even remotely similar in the future.

The settlement apparently didn't mandate that Google not list supplements or related products.

But again, think about it.

Once we get beyond the category of those "foundation" products I mentioned above -- that will be returning to Google Shopping shortly -- you move quickly into the realm of supplements and products that make all manner of often unproven and unsupported health claims. Even fans of "natural products" know how such claims can easily push into the realm of the old "patent medicine" barkers.

And especially with Google Shopping moving to an all-paid model, what possible incentive -- particularly in light of the pharmacies settlement -- would Google see to entangle Google Shopping with this specific category of products going forward?

Frankly, I'd likely take the same approach if I were Google.

Maybe my analysis is completely wrong. But it seems logical, and appears to fit the facts and the timing.

It's not entirely clear to me why Google is unwilling to say more about this now, but I Am Not a Lawyer, and I'd bet there are quite rational legal considerations that come into play.

Above all, we can safely assume that Google isn't being irrationally arbitrary about this situation.

There's no reason to assume that they "hate" supplements and other natural products, or that they'd walk away from potential income from listing such items if there weren't really solid considerations for doing so.

So it's very clear that the term "censorship" is not at all an appropriate label for this matter, and if anyone or anything is really to blame, perhaps what many observers felt to be the overzealous prosecution of Google in the pharmacy case deserves particular note.


Posted by Lauren at 09:50 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 24, 2012

Google's "Custom/Vanity URL" Controversy

Matters surrounding our personal and corporate "identities" on the Internet are among the thorniest concerns that face us today when we use the Web. All sorts of complicating factors -- many of them emotionally laden -- come into play, including complexities involving pseudonyms, anonymity, commerce, law enforcement, and many more.

After Google+ launched, identity issues quickly became a matter of some controversy, which regular readers will recall I discussed in considerable depth at the time.

As the G+ platform evolved, Google (as they had promised) implemented various changes that satisfied many (but not necessarily all) parties' complaints in this area -- keeping in mind that G+ with its view of identity is not meant to be a platform aimed at all possible forms of communications. There are some communications for which a social media system like G+ is ideal, and others for which (by design) it is not necessarily best suited.

When Google recently announced the initial rollout of "Custom URLs" for G+ (these are more popularly being called "vanity" URLs by many observers), it apparently triggered some echos of the original G+ identity controversies, though in reality the actual issues are different in key respects.

The vast majority of G+ profiles are currently identified via URLs using a long string of numbers. Obviously, this isn't ideal to include on a business card, and is not particularly memorable for most of us.

Custom URLs change this so that "THE" Albert Einstein could have a G+ URL that includes his name, rather than the numbers.

Naturally, if we're strictly using the name there can only be a single G+ URL for Albert Einstein, and given multiple people with that name, only one (the most "famous" one?) could be assigned that URL.

This takes us toward the heart of the current controversy -- namely, who deserves to get these URLs when multiple users share the same actual name? Is it appropriate for "celebrities" to always get preference over "ordinary people" in such circumstances?

To really address this aspect, we also need to explore what "verified names" mean on G+, because at the moment, it appears that verified names are first in line to be offered custom URLs (though this linkage seems likely to loosen over time).

A G+ profile with a verified name gets a little gray check mark on the associated profile page. But what does it really signify?

Essentially, it says "this is probably the one you're looking for."

That is to say, the vast majority of people looking for the person of that name will be looking for that particular profile. That's why at the moment G+ verified names are mostly (with some exceptions) restricted to celebrities or other well-known persons, companies, and brands.

These verifications are performed by Google pretty much on an ad hoc "as needed" basis currently, though they're working on more formal mechanisms to expand this (along with the offering of more custom URLs).

At this point, don't be too concerned if you're feeling at least a bit confused about this.

After talking to folks at Google, it seems clear that their goal both for verified names and custom URLs -- for right now -- is to help make it easier for most people to find the well-known personages and companies they're looking for, without users being misled by possibly faked or misleading false profiles.

Within this limited context, the relatively ad hoc mechanisms Google is currently using for these purposes seem to serve adequately.

Once we move beyond the realm of A-list celebrities and well-known brands though, both verifications and custom URLs are going to represent much more intriguing questions, both from policy and implementation standpoints.

And given how much investment we have in the emotional, personal, and business aspects of our online identities, an awful lot of people around the world will be very interested in how this is worked out over time.

I conducted a (rather hastily arranged, so most of the technical glitches are my fault) Google+ video Hangout On Air on these topics for 45 minutes yesterday afternoon, where we discussed many of these issues in more detail.

As always, your comments and questions on these topics are very welcome.

Take care, all.


Posted by Lauren at 01:47 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 20, 2012

The Sound of Google+ "Hangouts On Air" Disruptive Innovation

Back before I worked with video, even back before the days of widespread digital audio, not only did we record and process voice, music -- everything -- in the analog domain, we edited it all using razor blades, splicing tape, and aluminum splicing blocks. Despite the relative simplicity of our tools, it was possible to create extremely high quality results, which some observers even today consider superior to digital versions.

Analog or digital, audio quality is crucial not only for its own sake but also for video. For most videos, the audio is at least as important as the video itself, and sometimes even more crucial.

For anyone who is an aficionado of high quality audio, it is sometimes painful to see YouTube and other videos where the audio component was an afterthought of the creators -- or in some cases, obviously really received no thought at all. Whether a fancy production or a talking heads seminar, audio almost always matters.

When Google announced Hangouts On Air (HOA) not long ago, it immediately offered -- and delivered -- the promise of providing the free ability to broadcast live programming (with automatic archival to YouTube) to virtually unlimited size audiences around the world.

When I tested HOA myself, I fairly quickly determined video settings that would deliver optimally smooth video for the sorts of productions I've had in mind. These are not always obvious, however. For example, if you're dealing with that aforementioned "talking heads" case, local video generation at frame sizes as small as 320 x 180, and frame rates as low as 15 fps, may for some configurations provide the smoothest display for viewers, while still looking quite good as a fullscreen 16:9 image. This will vary depending on the specifics of your application, of course.

Other factors, such as using a separate device to monitor your generated HOA stream (e.g., another PC, a Google TV box, etc.) -- unless you've really got enough cycles to spare on your transmitting system -- are also relevant.

But frankly, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in some respects with the audio quality that Hangouts On Air provided.

The audio was completely intelligible. It was utterly reasonable for a video chat.

However, no matter how much processing technology I threw at the problem locally, I could not obtain results with music that I considered acceptable, and I would have preferred (for one-to-many broadcasts at least) higher voice quality as well in some situations.

Reluctantly, I shelved a number of concepts I had originally intended for HOA.

It appeared possible that this situation might have changed a few days ago, when Google announced the rolling out of a new "Studio" high quality audio option for HOA, specifically oriented toward music.

This afternoon I reran my original HOA tests using this new mode, and the results were really quite excellent indeed.

Basically, in Studio mode virtually all of the audio problems I faced with the original HOA (now termed "Voice") mode are gone. I now feel comfortable in producing programming for distribution via HOA that is suitable for music and mixed-mode content, not only voice. It may not be what we nebulously call "broadcast quality" audio -- but it's damned good. To paraphrase an old saying, it's better than enough for jazz!

The HOA Voice/Studio toggle selection should appear on the HOA settings page (click on the gear icon) after you start a Hangout On Air (but before you actually begin broadcasting it). If the toggle does not appear, the most likely cause is that you're running an older Google Talk plugin, which can be updated at:

Remember that all programming you broadcast via Hangouts On Air is subject to real-time Content ID scanning (as on YouTube). Content ID hits will interrupt your broadcast and prevent its archival to YouTube.

If you'd like to hear examples of the audio quality resulting from HOA Studio mode, a short segment of my testing today (archived automatically to YouTube) is online at:

Be warned, it's not very exciting at all -- just my standard color bars graphic and an audio loop containing several different sorts of content that I've found useful for testing in various situations. But it may be adequate to demonstrate that Hangouts On Air have definitely moved to a new stage in their evolution. Any glitches audible in this test video are the result of my actively adjusting various parameters during the transmission itself.

Given that Hangouts On Air showed enormous potential for "disrupting" key aspects of traditional broadcasting even from day one of their deployment, the possibilities now in play given the availability of higher quality HOA audio will likely be even more dramatic.


Posted by Lauren at 10:28 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 18, 2012

Whither Goes Twitter?

In the lexicon of Internet developer-speak, APIs are king. APIs -- Application Programming Interfaces -- are the behind-the-scenes channels that client applications use to communicate with system servers for a wide range of Internet-delivered services.

So when Twitter announced a few days ago an array of major changes and some key new restrictions regarding use of Twitter APIs, there were reports that many in the developer community had brought out their pitchforks and torches in angry response.

In a nutshell, Twitter's new rules apply a variety of limits and rules on how clients may use Twitter APIs, which are being widely viewed as being particularly limiting to clients that simply display and generate Twitter messages ("tweets"), and/or are newcomers on the scene without large, already established user bases.

These criticisms appear to have significant merit.

But Twitter is between something of a rock and a hard place right now, a moment of truth that will determine its course in major ways.

We can certainly stipulate that Twitter has every right to make these changes.

They've been providing services to the Internet community nearly entirely for free, and claims of "bait and switch" related to the new rules ("We helped build you up -- how can you do this to us?") are understandable -- but may not take into account the reality Twitter faces going forward.

Part of the problem seems historical. While it's probably difficult to get Twitter to admit it outright, their 140 character message limit, apparently tied to original SMS (text message) standards, has always been constraining.

Some observers have always attempted to suggest that this forced brevity is a benefit -- but I've tended to view this as something of a excuse rather than a ringing endorsement of incomplete sentences and bizarre abbreviations.

It's been clear for quite some time that Twitter feels these constraints as well, as they've built more mechanisms into their site that more easily connect and link full-length materials to individual tweets and tweet conversation threads.

The rise of these tweet expansion mechanisms -- along of course with the desire to inject various forms of service supporting advertising materials -- are likely key drivers of the new API policies, which pretty much will shut out any new clients that can't display the whole gamut of Twitter content. My guess is that older clients that don't meet these specifications will ultimately be dropped from API access as well.

This may well be completely necessary from Twitter's standpoint. Twitter, like Facebook to a significant extent, is something of a one-trick pony. Given the rapid speed of changes on the Web, this means the pony had better adapt fast or it's going to be left behind in the dust.

This does naturally enough point to the value of diversification.

Recall the reactions when Google initially started expanding into areas beyond basic search, experimenting with a range of different and often interconnected services -- some of which have been highly successful, some of which have been shut down over time. Critics claimed (some still do) that Google has too unfocused an array of projects.

But in the fullness of time, the wisdom of Google's management in taking this empirically-oriented course has been clearly demonstrated to most observers, as the range of services in a comprehensive Google ecosystem has not only benefited users, but has created a form of overall "future proofing" against downturns and competition in any specific market segment.

In the case of Twitter, I fully expect that despite changes in its API policies, users and developers will mostly adapt. I am unconvinced that such changes will annoy enough users to drive them en masse -- in the short run at least -- to other (free or fee-based) services.

Of the most longer-term concern perhaps, is whether the foundational Twitter ecosystem itself is becoming stagnant, despite Twitter's attempts to broaden its content reach.

I've noticed (and anecdotally, this seems to be a common impression) that the overall level of useful conversational activity I see on Twitter has dropped considerably in relevance.

Twitter still plays an enormously important role in getting news out quickly regarding important (or even trivial) events, and in providing communication conduits for persons under siege in countries with repressive governments.

But at least in my own case, it seems that many communications that I formerly engaged on Twitter have migrated elsewhere (e.g. Google+), and distressingly, most new followers I get on Twitter are now "We've got something to sell ya'!" spammy in nature, not true communicative followers in the original sense.

What this all may mean for Twitter's future is decidedly unclear.

Twitter has contributed mightily to the Web and the Internet community at large, but the crossroads at which Twitter now finds itself is a critical one.

If developers (for whatever reasons) are sufficiently energized to move toward other platforms, the deleterious effects on Twitter could be serious. And Twitter must now very carefully balance its content expansion course against the expectations it has created over its operational lifetime to this point. Concerns over censorship and the influence of content partners (not limited to Twitter, but spotlighted over the London Olympics) also are in play.

Realistically, I don't think that Twitter has very much margin for error.

But I do very much hope that they're able to successfully thread this needle. It would be a great loss for us all if they ultimately miss that mark.


Posted by Lauren at 11:15 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 17, 2012

Julian Assange, Pussy Riot, Ecuador, and RT

I suspect the headline on this posting has to be the oddest collection of words I've ever strung together in such a locale. But there are connections between them all worthy of note.

I have refrained in the past saying much publicly about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. I've done this specifically because the "ecosystem" surrounding WikiLeaks and what could be called a "cult of personality" around Assange is exceedingly complex.

Nor will I here, today, delve in the details of the foundational involved controversies, and what they mean for the Internet and the world at large.

But as we observe world condemnation rightly rise at the unjustified, Soviet Unionesque guilty verdict against the women of the Pussy Riot punk art group in Russia, perhaps some dot-connecting of a sort is in order.

Russia's justice system (I use the term "justice" loosely) and "new strongman, same as the old strongman" Vladimir Putin are widely seen as having targeted Pussy Riot specifically for political purposes. Obviously Putin must be pretty terrified of these young women, keeping them locked and sometimes even chained within a glass cage throughout their show trial.

But this sort of behavior is not limited to the confines of the Soviet Uni ... I mean, Russia.

Many fans of cable, satellite, and Internet channel "RT" ("Russia Today") don't realize that it is essentially the funded propaganda arm of Putin and the Kremlin, with a tendency to slant stories in ways that sometimes almost make FOX News look balanced -- and that's quite a trick.

I had my own run-in with RT some time back, when they attempted (and failed) to get me on air for an "ambush" interview under false pretenses. Not even FOX News has ever sunk that low with me.

Since then, I have viewed RT with especial skepticism, so when it was announced that Assange would have a regular program on RT (before he took up apparently permanent residence at the Ecuadorian embassy in London) it struck me as severely problematic.

RT equals Putin. Putin equals repression of speech and liberty.

Similarly, Assange's new close relationship with Ecuador, the country with the worst (and rapidly degrading) record of press censorship and suppression in the region, is also very troubling.

The "any port in a storm" philosophy notwithstanding, Assange's relationships with RT and now Ecuador, along with other facts that have become apparent about his relationships associated with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks' supporters, threaten to undermine whatever positive work WikiLeaks may have accomplished in the past.

Again, I won't here try to evaluate WikiLeaks' various positives and negatives, but a very bad sign is that the story now seems not to be about WikiLeaks itself, but rather about Julian Assange and his various personal choices.

Regardless of whether or not you are a supporter of WikiLeaks, this would seem to be a situation worthy of considerable deep thought.


Posted by Lauren at 01:23 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 14, 2012

Using the Google Nexus 7 Tablet as a Phone, For Free (+ a Privacy Hint)

Update: 24 September 2012: GrooVe IP Lite now directly supports OAuth authentication, making it unnecessary to provide your Google passwords to the app -- and it only requests "chat" credentials. Using the app's OAuth authentication in this manner should be quite safe, and eliminates the concerns noted in this original posting which at the time resulted in recommending that you don't use your main Google accounts with GrooVe IP Lite. If you authenticate the app via OAuth (via any Google account already associated with your device -- you can switch between accounts in just a few seconds) you should be fine.

I don't usually do "how-to" postings, and I'll have much more comprehensive discussions of Android "Jelly Bean" and the Google Nexus 7 tablet later -- there are some really fascinating implications to how that ecosystem is developing.

But since quite a few people have been asking me if it's possible to use the Wi-Fi-based Nexus 7 as a phone, I thought I'd scribble out this quickie guide.

In short, yes, even though the N7 doesn't obviously have phone-related user interfaces, you can use the N7 as a phone for both outgoing and incoming calls via VoIP, and this can be accomplished completely for free via Google Voice accounts.

The fairly easy steps:

Obtain and install the (GIPL) app via Google Play. This version is free and has everything you need for this situation. You still might wish to purchase the full version for $5 to support the fine work of the developer.

GIPL has settings for most situations, including some "under the hood" tuning for echo cancellation and the like. Usually you don't need to alter most of these, except to determine if you want the app starting up automatically at boot and a couple of other options.

GIPL will ask for your Google Voice (GV) login/password credentials. This is the privacy-related aspect. Personally, just on general principles without casting any aspersions on GIPL, I would not use GIPL with a GV account that is also used for other purposes such as actual Gmail messages, Google+, etc. A separate GV account for use with GIPL is strongly recommend.

After you sign in to GV via GIPL, if the connection is successful a green dot will appear in the status bar. GIPL will provide a dialing pad (even generating imitation DTMF tones if you wish), integrate in your contacts, and offer other typical functions.

Dial an outgoing domestic U.S. call via the GIPL interface, and with luck you should be in business. Voice quality is fine with a good Wi-Fi connection.

Now at this point, you may get a displayed or verbal error message that your call was not completed. This usually means either that you forgot to include an area code, or the associated (and necessary) Google Chat environment isn't yet initialized.

Make sure that GIPL is connected (green dot in status bar). Go to your Google Voice settings (the gear icon + Settings), and select the Phones tab. If you don't see an entry for Google Chat, that's likely the problem.

Go to Gmail for this account, and click the phone handset icon on the left. A phone keyboard will appear. Make a call via this website-based mechanism -- call yourself on another phone, for example.

Now return to the GV Phones tab and refresh. You should now see a Google Chat entry. Configure its options as desired.

Your outgoing calls from the Nexus 7 via GIPL and GV should now function.

Click the Google Chat check box if you also want incoming calls to your Google Voice number to ring through to your Nexus 7 via GIPL (when you have GIPL running, of course).

The earpiece jack on the Nexus 7 apparently does not accept microphones (e.g., via TRRS plugs), but you can handle your calls via regular earphones in conjunction with the mics built into the tablet itself -- or with no earphones at all via the integral speakers. Also, many Bluetooth headsets are reportedly compatible as well.

That should be about it. Let me know if you discover any issues!

And please remember again that as a basic privacy consideration, using your main Google Account with GIPL is not recommended -- use a separate account if at all possible.

Additional comments and discussion regarding this configuration of the Nexus 7 can be viewed here after the main copy of this posting on Google+.

Happy calling!


Update: 24 September 2012: GrooVe IP Lite now directly supports OAuth authentication, making it unnecessary to provide your Google passwords to the app -- and it only requests "chat" credentials. Using the app's OAuth authentication in this manner should be quite safe, and eliminates the concerns noted in this original posting which at the time resulted in recommending that you don't use your main Google accounts with GrooVe IP Lite. If you authenticate the app via OAuth (via any Google account already associated with your device -- you can switch between accounts in just a few seconds) you should be fine.

Posted by Lauren at 06:45 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 12, 2012

EPIC's Claim of Early White House TSA Petition Pulldown Is False

Sites all over the Net picked up a claim by EPIC that the White House had prematurely pulled down a petition regarding TSA when it was nearing its "signature" threshold.

People who really should have known better started claiming an Obama "conspiracy" to block the petition from completion.

This of course made no sense on its face. What would be accomplished? How would it be explained? After all, even if the threshold were met, all the White House has to do is issue a boilerplate response and that's that. Why risk subterfuge? Totally illogical!

The whole White House petition gimmick was silly from the outset, and I said so publicly when it was first announced.

A Web site problem seemed a much more likely cause for the petition vanishing, but in fact the creator of the petition, Jim Harper of Cato, now says it ended correctly on schedule. EPIC apparently simply assumed it had ended prematurely.

Anyone feeling at least a little bit like a gullible fool? Maybe some common sense, next time?


Posted by Lauren at 08:32 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

Attack of the Google DMCA Search Ranking Hysteria!

On Friday morning, Google blogged that they were beginning to incorporate a new signal in their search ranking algorithm, that took into account the numbers of valid copyright removal (e.g. DMCA) notices received for sites.

This signal reportedly could impact search results rankings by lowering the rankings of such sites (notably, not "vanishing" the sites from search results).

Immediately, the Net lit up with anguished and angry diatribes claiming that Google had "caved in" to the RIAA and MPAA -- both of whom were apparently at least grudgingly pleased by the announcement. Bloggers wondered if competitors could use false DMCA notices to push down their competitors' rankings, or if the RIAA and MPAA themselves would attempt to leverage this system to blow away material that wasn't even actually infringing.

Then people started speculating about whether this meant that popular sites -- possibly including Google's YouTube itself -- would be impacted by this "piracy demotion" factor.

Unless you seriously believe that the Google Search Quality folks are idiots -- and trust me, they're not! -- it should be obvious that the overwhelming majority of this panicked reaction has been hysterical and unrealistic.

The original statement from Google was clear (and later info made this even more definitive) that valid copyright takedowns were but one signal among the hundreds used by the ranking algorithm. All manner of other factors, including overall site reputations, come into play in these decisions.

So in reality, the only sites likely to be affected by this new signal are ones where most of their content attracts DMCA takedowns -- that is, sites pretty much devoted to such materials. And let's be honest with ourselves, most of us know those sites when we see them -- they're generally pretty explicit about what they're doing!

Even for those sites, the change can only possibly lower their rankings. That means that if instead of searching for:


someone instead searched for:

movie-title torrent

the results would likely be pretty much exactly what you'd expect.

Some observers have bemoaned that this change by Google supposedly doesn't benefit Google users.

Yet it is difficult to realistically argue that it does not serve users for legal and legitimate content links to have at least some degree of priority over "illicit" ones, not only on an ethical basis, but also given the various sometimes serious hassles that can afflict users who frequent sites that specialize in the latter.

Is there any potential for abuse or "gaming" of this new signal in unfair ways? There are probably issues that will be discovered as this change rolls out, but I would expect Google to deal with them promptly. It's in everyone's interest for them to do so, including their own.

And my gut feeling is that we'll all discover that the impact of this change on sites that aren't focused on explicitly illicit content will ultimately be negligible, and that the hue and cry over this issue has been very much the result of misunderstandings, false assumptions, and perhaps more than a little grandstanding in some quarters.

We shall see.


Posted by Lauren at 12:01 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 08, 2012

Mars vs. Copyright vs. YouTube

As NASA's Curiosity probe made a spectacular and picture-perfect landing on the red planet a few days ago, much of the world was gathered around their televisions and computer screens to see the live show (luckily, since the interplanetary performance wasn't limited to NBC, we didn't have to wait for a prime-time delayed presentation).

In the wake of the landing, vast amounts of associated NASA-generated video -- all of it in the public domain -- has been incorporated into shows and other videos being uploaded by users of Google's YouTube.

But the incredible popularity of this new NASA footage has once again spotlighted an enduring issue with YouTube, which in general has been a matter of increasing concern and irritation for many YouTube users.

As we've discussed previously, the rights issues surrounding videos on YouTube can be very complex, as is the history of YouTube itself -- not to mention ongoing legal actions such as Viacom's massive (and many would argue, significantly hypocritical) associated lawsuit against YouTube/Google.

Google employs a number of mechanisms to try deal with these complicated intellectual property concerns, relying mainly on automated systems to process the vast amount of video uploaded to YouTube continuously -- almost 8 years worth of video every day. To instead pre-screen and pre-approve such a mountain of materials with human screeners would obviously not only be impractical, but raise the specter of outright censorship as well.

There are basically two enforcement systems on YouTube. One is "copyright strikes." These are the really serious ones. A strike (a specific claim by a video owner that material is directly infringing) results in the immediate removal of the video in question, and three strikes can result in the removal of all the user's videos and closure of their account. Strikes can take about six months of "good behavior" to expire.

Much more common, and by virtue of this fact probably far more irritating to far more users, are Content ID (CID) hits. These are generally fully automated events on YouTube (and on Google+ "Live On Air" Hangouts as well), triggered by pattern content matches against materials and resulting templates provided by participants in YouTube's CID program.

CID hits don't impact the overall status of user accounts. There is not (as far as I know) any limit to the number of CID hits an account may accumulate.

But CID hits do matter, and they can be maddening.

Because they are fully automated, "false" CID hits are extremely common. In same cases, these are the result of overzealous (or even fraudulent) CID users.

There can be an incentive for such behavior. The "owner" of a CID claim can effectively choose the penalty -- which can then be arbitrarily changed at any time. This can range from blocking of the video globally, in certain countries or regions, or -- more commonly -- the displaying of ads along with the video, with revenue going to the CID claimant, not the party who uploaded the video.

Sometimes this CID ad model works out well. It has permitted many YouTube users to use music in their videos without appropriate licenses, often subject only to a "Buy the music here" or other ad-related insertions.

But if a video uploader feels that they are using all public domain materials, or materials they created solely by themselves, even the presence of outside ads can be irritating -- and obviously it's much worse when video blocking due to CID claims is in play.

The CID "video reuse" problem is a classic example of how things can go wrong, and one that people ask me about in relation to Google nearly every day.

For example, if party A (not a CID participant) uploads a video that contains some public domain or original material, and party B (a CID participant) uploads a video that also uses some of the same public domain content (or even some of party A's original content), CID may in some cases flag party A's video as being in violation of party B.

I've had this happen myself. I've had both public domain video and public domain music excerpts falsely flagged by CID.

And this is also what's been happening with the new NASA Curiosity footage. Various ordinary YouTube users who displayed that public domain material in their uploaded videos are in some cases reportedly being swamped by Content ID hits from CID participants like news agencies and the like, who also used that same public domain footage. This has even happened to NASA itself on its own YouTube channels with its own videos.

When a Copyright Strike or Content ID hit occurs, YouTube sends the associated user an alert and pointer to forms for disputing the claim. These forms have been significantly improved recently, becoming easier to understand and covering more common use cases -- though there are still situations that can be difficult to accurately characterize via the forms.

Typically, when you file a dispute -- e.g. "The material in question is public domain." -- videos are essentially immediately restored and outside ads pulled down, until the claimant responds to the dispute.

Sometimes this process flows reasonably. Other times, claimants seem to perform what amount to pro forma rejections of disputes (returning the videos to their blocked/ad-insertion status), leaving the typical uploader with no practical further recourse.

Fundamental to many person's complaints about this situation is the implied "guilty until proven innocent" nature of the system. Even with the dispute mechanism in place, this strikes many observers as fundamentally unfair.

On the other hand, Content ID is fundamental to letting people upload video at all without pre-screening authorization. Trying to handle this primarily without the use of automated systems would be unthinkable.

Answers to these dilemmas don't come easily. You can't simply assume that the first party to upload material has the rights to it.

But it could be useful for parties who generate a great deal of public domain video (like NASA) to have an easy way to quickly indicate the status of their videos, so that included footage would not be used as triggers for CID hits.

A bit more "friction" in the system when dealing with materials that are not already known to be widely abused could also be useful.

In such cases, instead of blocking/ad-insertions immediately applying upon the triggering of CID, perhaps a warning could be sent out to both parties allowing them to discuss/negotiate the status of the footage in question (say up to 24 hours or some such) before primary CID-triggered actions (such as ads/blocking) would be deployed.

Some might argue that this would create a "window" for purposeful uploader abuse, but I believe this could still be limited algorithmically. Another counter-argument could perhaps be that busy media firms with large video holdings might not always be able to respond within a short time frame.

All that said, the underlying YouTube "penalty first, then try prove your innocence" status quo, even given the existing dispute mechanisms, seems increasingly untenable.

Legitimate rights holders most certainly should be able to protect their content.

But we should also be able to do better all around to create a more equitable framework for dealing with these situations, which would include the automated systems, routine dispute processes, and a means for escalated appeals.


Posted by Lauren at 10:19 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 05, 2012

Chick-fil-A and Internet Freedoms

Personally, I strongly support the concept of gay marriage. Nor have I ever been within a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

But for many of us who spend a good portion of our lives concerned about the encroaching loss of freedoms on the Internet, watching the unfolding of the ongoing Chick-fil-A "gay marriage" saga has been a painfully depressing experience.

When Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy stated that he defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman -- that is, the historically traditional viewpoint -- not only he, but also the individual restaurants and workers in the Chick-fil-A chain were immediately subjected to what can only be described as a scathing round of attacks, based solely on Cathy's citing his personal opinion.

Ironically, many of these attacks came from individuals, parties, and groups who are normally associated with progressive attitudes and causes (a notable exception was the virtually always consistent ACLU, which quickly noted dangers in the expanding vitriol).

Naturally, it is completely within the rights of individuals and non-government groups to protest views with which they don't agree, and in the case of a situation such as the Chick-fil-A controversy, to vote with their wallets by withholding their patronage from the firm.

But the major turn of events, which had the perverse impact of triggering the "Streisand Effect" and an outpouring of support for Chick-fil-A, was the pronouncements of various big city politicians implying that they would try to specifically ban, eject, or otherwise interfere with the business of Chick-fil-A in their jurisdictions, based solely on Dan Cathy's gay marriage remark (not, apparently, based on any accusations of violated regulations or laws on the part of Chick-fil-A).

That some politicians would cynically sense an opportunity to score points in this realm is not unexpected, even though such actions by government targeting Chick-fil-A would be slam dunk unconstitutional. After all, the freedom of speech clause of the First Amendment was specifically drafted to protect unpopular viewpoints from government attacks. The Founding Fathers knew all too well what attacks on speech by government were all about.

And in fact, most of these opportunistic politicos quickly reversed their boisterous threats against Chick-fil-A, presumably after horrified calls from their legal staffs.

But again, this is the sort of behavior we have unfortunately come to expect from many politicians.

What was much less expected, and extremely disheartening, was to see various progressive forces cheering the obviously repressive threats of those politicians, with an explicit and frankly terrifying disregard for constitutionally-protected First Amendment freedom of speech concerns.

They were distressingly somewhat reminiscent of the torch-bearing mobs of old, substituting emotion for logic -- in this case equating an opinion regarding gay marriage with illegal discrimination. (Obviously, any cases of genuine discrimination in violation of laws would be actionable, but by and large this was not being invoked in these protests.)

Those of us who spoke out in favor of the First Amendment in this case, even as we expressed our support for gay marriage, were still mercilessly attacked in some venues.

Outside of the shame and counterproductive attention that the First Amendment deniers have brought upon themselves in this matter, these events also may illuminate key aspects of the battle for freedom of speech on the Internet as well.

Much like the protesters attempting revenge on Chick-fil-A in response to a legal pronouncement of its president's opinion, we see various forces on the Internet attempting to impose their own interests via repressive actions against the Internet at large.

Various traditional entertainment interests such as the RIAA and MPAA, and newer groups like the cyber-fearmongers exploiting overblown cyberwar fears, continue their efforts at subverting the legal and legislative systems to benefit their own financial interests -- at vast cost to the legitimate cause of Internet freedoms.

Calls for search engine censorship, vast surveillance and anti-encryption regimes, oppressive domain takedowns absent legitimate due process -- and on and on. These are the tools being deployed to undermine freedom on the Net.

And much like those politicians willing to throw the Constitution's First Amendment under the bus in the name of denouncing Chick-fil-A, we see groups aligned against Internet freedoms who are so focused on their own narrow interests, that they simply don't care how much collateral and long-lasting damage they'll do to the Internet community and freedoms in general in pursuit of their goals.

Of course the global Internet doesn't have a First Amendment, nor a Constitution at all for that matter.

So we must depend on national governments -- or perhaps more realistically, the world's Internet users themselves -- to see clearly the enormous risks brought to bear by muzzling freedom of speech, especially on the Net, and particularly when controversial issues are in focus.

Throughout human history, the most powerful weapons of suppression used by governments against their own citizens haven't been swords or arrows, or even guns and bullets -- but rather control over information and speech.

When we willingly endorse the obliteration of others' speech rights, even for what we might consider to be worthy causes, we inevitably provide powerful ammunition for those forces who will joyously use the same logic and means to attack our most cherished goals and beliefs.

Perhaps something to keep in mind -- at home, at work, on the Internet, and even at the local fast food drive-through.


Posted by Lauren at 10:53 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 02, 2012

Twitter, NBC, and the "Streisand Effect"

By now you probably know at least the outlines of the recent controversy surrounding Twitter, NBC, censorship, and the Olympics.

Let's very quickly review.

Unlike virtually every other broadcaster on the planet covering the Olympics, NBC decides to delay and edit all non-Internet Olympic programming for prime time, explicitly suggesting that American audiences are "too stupid" to understand events such as the opening ceremonies without NBC's "expert editing and commentary." NBC raises ire in England when they cut a tribute to terrorism victims from the delayed, edited, U.S. version.

NBC proclaims that their approach has been vindicated, since viewership of their bastardized coverage is breaking records, and since they're in business primarily to make money, not to serve viewers in any case. Observers note that since most viewers didn't know how to use the Internet to find "illicit" live feeds, they're like any hungry person -- they'll eat what's put in front of them.

A journalist upset about NBC's handling of Olympic coverage sends out a Twitter tweet with an NBC executive's corporate email address, suggesting that viewers let him know how they feel about NBC's coverage.

Twitter suspends the journalist's Twitter account, claiming he violated Twitter terms of use related to "private information" and "information not already published on the Internet publicly."

Mass interest in the story ensues, making the NBC executive's email address one of the best known in the world.

NBC claims they only filed a complaint about the journalist's tweet after Twitter itself suggested they do so, and NBC says they did not realize this would result in the journalist's Twitter account being suspended.

Twitter admits that their team partnering with NBC for the Olympics did indeed notice the "offending" tweet and suggested to NBC that a complaint be filed. Twitter stipulates that while it's possible to argue about whether the specific email in question actually contained private information, it was clearly wrong for the Twitter team to have triggered this chain of events.

Journalist's Twitter account is restored (this might have happened anyway after a warning, according to normal Twitter policy).

I'm very pleased to see that Twitter has clearly admitted that proactive stream monitoring and dispute filing of this sort by Twitter itself are inappropriate, and that they will take steps to avoid this sort of confrontation in the future. The confidence of Twitter's user community is perhaps its most crucial asset -- once really lost it may be difficult or impossible to regain.

Of perhaps broader long-term interest is the whole question of public information and censorship on the Internet.

We can make short order of the "was it public?" question in this particular case.

The NBC exec's corporate email address was of the form "" -- a format that is not only highly standardized for public email addresses, but explicitly exposed on NBC Universal's own media contact Web page.

What's more, in this case the executive's address was already specifically noted on various Web pages (including a page protesting NBC from 2011), making his address public by an even more obvious measure.

An argument has been made that his address didn't appear on many pages, so it wasn't "widely" known.

I don't know what "widely" is supposed to actually mean in this context, but the bottom line is that a simple search would find his email address in seconds, so the absolute number of pages where the address appeared is really utterly irrelevant. One is as good as a thousand from the searcher's standpoint.

Clearly, this email address was public. Twitter could have quickly made this determination to a reasonable level of confidence.

Which leads us to another question.

What if the journalist in this case hadn't tweeted the actual email address, but rather tweeted the simple search terms required to find the address? What would Twitter have done in that case?

I don't know the answer to this one, but the question itself points to the fundamental issue.

Attempts to control the dissemination of information on the Internet that has already been made public, are almost always doomed.

As regular readers probably know, I call this concept "public is public."

We can be upset that certain information is out there, we can wish it weren't,
we can dream of turning back the clock and stuffing the genie back into the bottle.

None of this will usually make any difference at all, except that efforts to limit the spread of such information will often trigger the notorious "Streisand Effect."

The Streisand Effect -- named for entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose efforts to block the dissemination on the Net of information regarding her Malibu home led to vastly more attention to that property than would have been the case if she hadn't complained in the first place.

We see this sort of situation play out in various related forms again and again.

Efforts to takedown already published data result in even more copies appearing all over the Web, creating an impossible Whac-A-Mole nightmare for anyone trying to remove the data, and sometimes media attention that attracts orders of magnitude more people who then access the data.

In the NBC/Twitter case, that tweeted email address would have likely had virtually no impact if Twitter hadn't suspended the account, creating a cause célèbre in the process.

That's not to say that Twitter -- like all Web services -- doesn't have a legitimate responsibility to act in cases of actual, real abuse.

But it's important for us all to suppress the urge to err on the side of censorship, on the side of control. This is especially true considering the reality -- like it or not -- that once information is out there on the Net, it is in most cases effectively indelible, and that efforts to retroactively delete such data will not only almost always fail, but can easily do a great deal of collateral damage to innocents in the process.

You need not necessarily revel in this state of affairs, but it is the reality, and to fight against it is like trying to hold back the ocean with a sandcastle.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts on this and other issues, at my own email address of

And that's one address you can share without fear of page takedowns, account suspensions, or even guilty feelings in the dead of night.



Posted by Lauren at 09:31 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein