Big Brother

Big brother is getting a little free help from Google. “Swiss police said Thursday they stumbled across a large marijuana plantation while using Google Earth.” I guess I figured the police would be using Google Earth but it didn’t really occur to me that it would work to solve crimes. The plantation was hidden inside a field of corn that was easily spotted from Google Earth’s ariel view. The head of Zurich police’s specialist narcotics unit Norbert Klossner said “it was an interesting chance discovery.” Such a chance discovery that it’s possible a lot of grow operations might move into more covered locations.

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A homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk on her cell phone.

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I know this is not a political blog, and save for a few recent posts I’ve tried to stay right on the edge of politics. Only commenting on politics when it crosses into our world. Frankly the less politics gets in the way of the entertainment industry and the technology sector the better. It should be used as a resource to aid in advancements and not limit the scope or potential for progress and change that new technologies can posses.

This, however is just too ridiculous to not comment on. First, we had Al Gore back on March 9, 1999 say to massive tool Wolf Blitzer: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” This quote soon gained a life of its own and Al Gore was now the  father of the internet; leaving all context aside.

Seems that people on the political side and on this side too take people at their literal words. So, now that its 9 years later and we’ve all been able to set aside that the real inventor of the internet isn’t as easy an answer, but a bit more complicated (The inventor of the World Wide Web is largely credited to Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, but ‘computing’s Johnny Appleseed’ is J.C.R. Licklider and really it was the U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Army, who first saw the need and had the resources to develop the first ressemblances of what would become the internet).

John McCain doesn't use computers, but he invented the BlackBerry?

John McCain doesn't use the Internet but somehow he invented the BlackBerry.

So, here we are 9 years later and the jokes keep coming against Gore. Why oh why then would anyone try to take claim over something that they clearly did not do? Why would senior domestic policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin while referring to Senator McCain say “He did this” while holding up his BlackBerry? He then went on to say “So, you’re looking at the miracle that John McCain helped create.”

Both Gore and McCain aren’t necessarily trying to take full ownership of these creations (McCain wasn’t even in the room for his claim). They are taking claim over the regulations and government oversight that has allowed the internet and cellular devices to flourish. Only problem with pointing out the BlackBerry specifically is that the actual company that created it, Research in Motion, is based in Waterloo Canada. That makes even the best regulations over the device by an American politician mostly irrelevant.

Generally it’s a good laugh, and a political blunder to make such claims but sometimes people don’t know any better. I hope people are able to see past the quotes taken out of context (which I totally helped with today, check out the full quotes via the links above) and realize these claims are overstated and misunderstood… at least I hope so.

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The debate over whether or not “the U.S. gov’t may owe royalties on the song that has been blared over and over and over again to weaken detainee’s” at the Guantanamo Bay may finally have an answer, no. The song you might ask is none other than one of my all time favorites: David Gray’s hit from 2000, ‘Babylon.’ No matter how much I like the song, Gray agrees “that is nothing but torture.” He told the BBC: “That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is – it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.”A spokesman from Gray’s record label said that the company does not license to military bases. And, given the circumstances of the base itself it is unlikely that with ASCAP relying on the user of their content or third parties to pay the royalties, that they’ll be seeing any kind of compensation for all the times ‘Babylon’ has been blasted over their speakers (can you really blast that song anyway, what a strange choice?).

If you are curious to find out what it sounds like to be a prisoner at Gitmo just cover your head with a bag, handcuff yourself in your bathroom, turn the lights low and grab a copy of ‘White Ladder’ by David Gray.

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The Smoking Gun has the scoop on a Pittsburgh couple that is suing Google over their “Street View” feature, which allows users to see photos taken at street-level of the address/map they’re looking up.

The couple claims that they live on a private drive, and sought out the property specifically because of the privacy it afforded them.  Now of course this street-level view has destroyed this privacy by providing pictures of the couple’s house.  So they’re suing for $25,000.

Now, on the one hand I find this one of the more legit complaints that someone could come up with.  I’m also intrigued that they’re only seeking $25K and not $25M.  I mean, you’re suing Google.  You’re really only going to ask for $25K?

But on the other hand, how many people were actually ever going to seek out the home of the Borings’ (yes that’s their last name) on Google?  And more importantly, by seeking out this lawsuit and not keeping the records confidential, they’ve now exposed their names, address, and photos of their home to everyone on the Net.

I actually think that this, in a weird way, brings up a good privacy issue that Google should address–I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to have the ability to opt-out of photos of your home being posted on the Google Maps feature.  I think you’re able to opt-out of having your phone number listed in Google searches.

What I don’t know however, is if images of your home can be “private”, especially if the pictures are taken from a location not on your property.  I’m very interested to see if Google addresses this issue or if the lawsuit gets swept under the rug…because in the time I’ve written this Google has made significantly more than the $25K needed to pay the Borings off.

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The New York Times is claiming “web companies are learning more about people than ever from what they search for and do on the Internet, gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.” While Google ads might have been able to tell you this the last time you checked your Gmail, or looked at the ads to the left or on the bottom of this page it is “the first broad estimate of the amount of consumer data that is transmitted to Internet companies.” By ‘Internet Companies’ they mean anyone from the well known like Google and Wikipedia to the not so obvious like the McClatchy Corporation and Conde Nast Publications.While this isn’t new to the advertising world it is the first time this amount of data has been collected and released to the public. Nielsen has been keeping track of what TV shows people watch since 1950. While Nielsen has been setting the standard for broadcast revenue the data being collected by Internet companies can specifically target exactly what you are interested in. Not everyone watching ‘Sports Center’ wants Gatorade when they are working out but you can bet the person searching for cheap plane tickets to Paris might click an ad that says “fly to Paris and bring a friend for free.”

NY Times Internet Privacy Graph

Because this data collection is mostly behind the scenes there hasn’t been much mention of it, save for the time Facebookpublicized to member’s friends what purchases they had recently made, and little reason to stop. In fact the more a company knows about its users the better targeted the ads can become and the more they can charge to put them on their website. That’s a lot of extra money that Internet companies are looking to gain, especially when on average Yahoo! collects 811 points per person. Just think about the last 811 searches or fields you’ve entered data into, from web-searches, to your zip code, maybe even your age, race, and favorite food. That doesn’t even take into account if you’re into social networking on Facebook or Myspace. Most profiles on facebook have people list out what ads should be targeted to them in categories: “favorite movie”, “favorite book”, “hobbies”. Each time collecting a new piece of data to target you with. But, is this so bad? Who cares if Google knows you like rugby, and want to fly to Madrid for the summer? They gain a little money by targeting appropriate ads to you and as that same individual doesn’t have to be bombarded with tampon ads the way they do when they watch TV. It all depends on how comfortable you are with Internet companies knowing about you. If you wear your rugby jersey around town then maybe it doesn’t matter to you if Google knows that but, not everything in life is as public as the clothes on our backs.

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