The New York Times reports: Google Plus, the company’s social network, is like a ghost town. Want to see your old roommate’s baby or post your vacation status? Chances are, you’ll use Facebook instead.
But Google isn’t worried. Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.
The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.
Before Google released Plus, the company might not have known that you were the same person when you searched, watched videos and used maps. With a single Plus account, the company can build a database of your affinities.
Google says Plus has 540 million monthly active users, but almost half do not visit the social network. [Continue reading...]
The Register reports: A group of Canadian researchers has given the imprimatur of social-science recognition to a fact that many of us who spend time in internet comment forums have suspected: there’s a strong correlation between online trolling and sadism.
“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!” write Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus of the Universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg, and British Columbia, respectively, in a paper to be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
The researchers define trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose,” referring to trolls as “agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘hot-button issues’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner. If an unfortunate person falls into their trap, trolling intensifies for further, merciless amusement.”
The Canadian psychologists’ paper is entitled “Trolls just want to have fun”, which is not merely a bit of boffinary humor at the expense of Cyndi Lauper, but rather a reference to one of the researchers’ findings. “We found clear evidence,” they write, “that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it.” [Continue reading...]
David Shipler writes: The phone at Ed Walsh’s Jerusalem home rang during a small dinner party one evening in the early 1980s. He was the Washington Post’s bureau chief, but the call was for me. In those pre-cell phone days, I made it a practice to let the New York Times Foreign Desk know where I’d be and how to reach me.
Ed said I could take it in his office, which was near enough to the dining room that the guests could hear my end of the conversation. An editor in New York wanted me to expand on a short piece I’d done on a small and insignificant event. They were considering it for the front page.
No, I said, please don’t. It will send readers the wrong message. It will inflate the importance of a minor incident. I no longer remember exactly what it was: perhaps a cabinet minister threatening to resign from the governing coalition, which always got New York excited although it was the Israelis’ routine method of conducting politics. Or, it might have been the time when a couple of Palestinian would-be terrorists crossed the well-patrolled border from Jordan into the West Bank, prompting a manhunt by the Israeli army, which caught them before they launched an attack. In any case, it needed to be reported but certainly didn’t rise to the level of major news, and I managed to talk the editor down from the height of what would have been embarrassing hype.
I returned to the table to see quizzical looks from a couple who were not journalists. Five minutes later, the phone rang again. This time it was for Ed, and we could hear him in the same conversation, working to dissuade his editor in Washington from overplaying the story. When he came back, one of the non-journalists laughed in amazement: I thought you guys were always pushing to get ONTO page one, and here you were trying to stay OFF!
Ed and I had violated the stereotypes of the hard-bitten newsroom in The Front Page, and we joked about that evening for years afterwards. I guess we tried to explain to the bemused guests that it was not the first time that Washington and New York had exaggerated the gravity of developments in Israel, that we thought our responsibility as correspondents included perspective and sober judgment. Ed must have given his crooked smile and a twinkle of irreverence for those in power, as he did wherever he encountered them–whether among politicians or editors.
Ed died on Valentine’s Day. I find myself wondering if his breed of reporter is dying too. The pressures in this age of cable and Internet and gotcha journalism work against the lower key. They promote self-promotion. They induce hype. And they distort reality as a result. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: A previously unknown flaw in a recent version of Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer web browser is being used to attack Internet users, including some visitors to a major site for U.S. military veterans, researchers said Thursday.
Security firm FireEye Inc discovered the attacks against IE 10 this week, saying that hundreds or thousands of machines have been infected. It said the culprits broke into the website of U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars and inserted a link that redirected visitors to a malicious web page that contained the infectious code in Adobe Systems Inc’s Flash software.
FireEye researcher Darien Kindlund said that the attackers were probably seeking information from the machines of former and current military personnel and that the campaign shared some infrastructure and techniques previously attributed to groups in mainland China. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: The mass surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency means that governance of the internet has to be made more international and less dominated by America, the European Union’s executive has declared.
Setting out proposals on how the world wide web should function and be regulated, the European commission called for a shift away from the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which is subject to US law, is contracted by the US administration and is empowered to supervise how digital traffic operates.
“Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance,” said the commission.
“Given the US-centric model of internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance …
“Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have led to a loss of confidence in the internet and its present governance arrangements.” [Continue reading...]
David Carr writes about Ezra Klein’s departure from the Washington Post. Klein, the Post’s highest profile blogger, is “going to Vox Media, the online home of SB Nation, a sports site, and The Verge, a fast-growing technology site.”
In making the switch, Mr. Klein is part of a movement of big-name journalists who are migrating from newspaper companies to digital start-ups. Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher left Dow Jones to form Re/code with NBC. David Pogue left The New York Times for Yahoo and Nate Silver for ESPN. At the same time, independent news sites like Business Insider, BuzzFeed and Vox have all received abundant new funding, while traffic on viral sites like Upworthy and ViralNova has exploded.
All the frothy news has led to speculation that a bubble is forming in the content business, but something more real is underway. I was part of the first bubble as a journalist at Inside.com in 2001 — an idea a decade ahead of its time — and this feels very different.
The web was more like a set of tin cans and a thin wire back then, so news media upstarts had trouble being heard. With high broadband penetration, the web has become a fully realized consumer medium where pages load in a flash and video plays without stuttering. With those pipes now built, we are in a time very similar to the early 1980s, when big cities were finally wired for cable. What followed was an explosion of new channels, many of which have become big businesses today.
The same holds true for digital. Organizations like BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Vice and Vox, which have huge traffic but are still relatively small in terms of profit, will eventually mature into the legacy media of tomorrow.
More and more, it’s becoming apparent that digital publishing is its own thing, not an additional platform for established news companies. They can buy their way into it, but their historical advantages are often offset by legacy costs and bureaucracy.
In digital media, technology is not a wingman, it is The Man. Kenneth Lerer, manager of Lerer Ventures and one of the backers of BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, says that whenever he is pitched an editorial idea, he always asks who the technology partner is. How something is made and published is often as important as what is made.
Carr declares: “Great digital journalists consume and produce content at the same time, constantly publishing what they are reading and hearing.”
That’s true if “great” means popular and fast.
But speed is the fetish of the digital religion and there’s no merit in being able to get everything fast if the price is that it becomes stripped of value.
The commercial success of digital journalism may well depend on the creation junk media that’s just as palatable as junk food — cheap, fast, and with little nutritional value. But maybe what we really need is something less tailored to mass appeal — a counterpart to the slow food movement, where content is carefully prepared, chewed slowly, digested well, and less inclined to cause heartburn.
Marvin Ammori writes: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just issued its long-awaited decision striking down the FCC’s network neutrality rule. This is the second time in four years that this court struck down the FCC’s attempt to adopt a network neutrality rule. It is now legal for AT&T or Verizon to block Slate, your blog, or any other site.
Even though the Internet touches every part of our lives, one person is to blame for potentially destroying its potential for innovation and freedom of expression: former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The court loss was even more emphatic and disastrous than anyone expected. But this defeat comes with a silver lining: It may force the new FCC chairman to act.
“Network neutrality” is sometimes called “Internet freedom” or “Internet openness” and is a legal principle that would forbid cable and phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from blocking some websites or providing special priority to others. It would forbid Comcast from blocking Facebook or Bing. It would forbid Verizon from, say, charging the Huffington Post for special service to load more quickly than Slate.
Without network neutrality, cable and phone companies could stifle innovation. Imagine if, years ago, MySpace or AltaVista had cut deals with cable companies to block Facebook and Google. Without network neutrality, telecom and cable companies could also stifle free expression. They’d have the legal right to block articles like this one. [Continue reading...]
Wired reports: Brendan Eich is the chief technology officer of the Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit behind the Firefox web browser. Among many other things, he oversees the Firefox security team — the software engineers who work to steel the browser against online attacks from hackers, phishers, and other miscreants — and that team is about to get bigger. Much, much bigger.
In a recent blog post, Eich calls for security researchers across the globe to regularly audit the Firefox source code and create automated systems that can ensure the same code is used to update 18 million machines that run the browser. That’s not an option for other browsers, but it is for Firefox. The code behind the browser is completely open source, meaning anyone can look at it, at any time.
The move is one more way that the giants of the web are responding to revelations that the National Security Agency is snooping on web traffic via popular services and software. After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government is tapping into data collected by private companies like Google and Facebook and then private email outfit Lavabit revealed a gag order that forbade the company from the telling customers the government was requesting information about them, Eich is worried that the feds could force Mozilla into adding a backdoor into its browser. [Continue reading...]
At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Parker Higgins writes: One year ago, we lost Aaron Swartz, a dear friend and a leader in the fight for a free and open Internet. The shock was, and remains, a profound one. It’s a testament to the power of his commitments and ideals that both in life and in death he has inspired millions around the world, including all of us at EFF, to redouble our own efforts to advance the causes that he believed in, and to untangle the twisted and brutal computer crime laws that were used to persecute him.
Aaron was a passionate activist, but he also stood out as a technologist whose ambitions were always aligned towards a better, more just future. His pioneering work demonstrated a passion for harnessing technology to advance the public interest. As the Internet community confronted massive new challenges to free speech and privacy in 2013, there were many moments when we wondered quietly about what Aaron would have said and done.
Sadly, we are left to wonder. We know from his work on the software that would become SecureDrop that Aaron believed in making the world a safer place for whistleblowers to expose injustice and wrongdoing. We are all worse off without the passion and curiosity he surely would have brought to Edward Snowden’s continuing disclosures about NSA spying. We are reminded of Aaron as we push forward in our court cases against the NSA, help organizing against the spying with the stopwatching.us coalition, evaluate the Congressional proposals and, of course, as we continue to build and support technologies that let people take their privacy into their own hands. Aaron understood deeply that, more than ever in a world where information is power, both legal and technical protections for privacy are essential to keep people from being rendered powerless. [Continue reading...]
Michael Meyer writes: Depending on whom you ask, Evgeny Morozov is either the most astute, feared, loathed, or useless writer about digital technology working today. Just 29 years old, from an industrial town in Belarus, he appeared as if out of nowhere in the late aughts, amid the conference-goers and problem solvers working to shape our digital futures, a hostile messenger from a faraway land brashly declaring the age of big ideas and interconnected bliss to be, well, bullshit.
To say that Morozov has gone out of his way to irritate powerful and influential people in the tech world doesn’t quite capture it. Doing so is his primary occupation. In the Morozovian worldview, New York University professor and social-media theorist Clay Shirky is a “consultant-cum-intellectual”; Google’s mission is to “monetize all of the world’s information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable”; and Tim O’Reilly, the Silicon Valley publisher and venture capitalist who coined “Web 2.0,” is an Orwellian “meme hustler” and the main culprit behind “the enduring emptiness of our technology debates.” To millions of viewers, TED talks are inspirational speeches about “ideas worth spreading” in science and technology. To Morozov they are a “sinister” hyping of “ideas no footnotes can support.”
Or try this passage. It’s a takedown of a work of technological triumphalism called Hybrid Reality, but it doubles as a summary of his thinking about the entirety of the tech discourse: “[P]erhaps this is what the Hybrid Age is all about: marketing masquerading as theory, charlatans masquerading as philosophers, a New Age cult masquerading as a university, business masquerading as redemption, slogans masquerading as truths.”
The entire Morozov aesthetic is in this sentence: the venom, the derision, the reverse jujitsu of his opponents’ sanctimony, the bald accusation that all the talk about a new age of human flourishing is nothing but an attempt to vamp the speaker’s consulting business. Tech enthusiasts channel hope. Tech skeptics channel worry. Morozov channels anger, and this can be a very satisfying emotion to anyone unconvinced that everything is getting better. Leon Wieseltier, who has published some of Morozov’s most acid criticism at The New Republic, compares him to the ferocious jazz musician Charles Mingus, who once responded to an interviewer who accused him of “hollerin’ ” by saying, “I feel like hollerin’.” I asked Morozov if he considers his Twitter feed, which spews a constant stream of invective and absurdist satire, to be performative. This was a bit like asking Mingus if he considers jazz performative. “Absolutely,” he said. “I consider it art.”
At some point, though, the hollerin’ ends, everyone’s feelings are hurt, and it’s time to talk about what we’ve learned. Because Morozov isn’t just an “intellectual hit man,” as one writer put it. He wants to be taken seriously, and he has the output to demand it. He’s written two New York Times Notable Books of the year, and his influence is global and growing. He’s published dozens of essays in some of the world’s most prestigious publications, and his monthly column, besides appearing in Slate, is translated for leading newspapers in Germany, Spain, Italy, China, and several other countries. In Morozov’s estimation, if Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt pays attention to him at all it’s not because he can publish an op-ed in The New York Times, but because he can publish an op-ed across Europe. [Continue reading...]