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Google's Tortured History With China

By - January 13, 2010

china-flag-wave.jpgGoogle yesterday surprised Wall St. and its partners with the announcement that it may pull out of China (most expect it will, given the politics of making such a statement, the move is most likely assured). Google said that “hackers” had leveraged its infrastructure to target Chinese dissidents. To my mind, that means Google has discovered that China’s government is using Google’s networks and data, and Google realized that can’t stand, for any number of reasons. (Including that US and European based activists were targeted – via phishing and other similar types of scams).  

Google further noted that at least 20 other companies were also being targeted, and it has been in contact with those companies as well.  

What’s interesting and consistent to me is that Google has been here before – at the same time that Google was entering China (Jan. of 2006), the US Dept. of Justice demanded data from Google as part of a child porn fishing excercise, and Google refused to comply, and then went public, in essence becoming a leader in data rights by forcing the government’s hand.

In this case, Google is again taking a leadership role, and the company is forcing China’s hand. While it’s a stretch to say the two things are directly connected, the seeming fact that China’s government was behind the intrusions has led Google to decide to stop censoring its results in China. This is politics at its finest, and it’s a very clear statement to China: We’re done playing the game your way.

From the blog post:

We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

As I wrote in the book and here, Google was never entirely comfortable with getting into China, and used a fair amount of tortured logic to get to the point of committing resources back five years ago. From one of my posts:

There’s still time to pull out, guys. I’ve read your rationalizations, and Uncle Bill’s as well. I don’t buy them. I don’t buy that this is what, in your heart, you believe is right. Sure, I understand the logic. But, well….in your heart, is this what you wanted to do? No? Then why did you do it?

….I was having dinner with some dear friends tonight. They asked me why did Google do this? My answer: I think they convinced themselves it was the right thing to do. They thought themselves into it. And deep down, they aren’t sure they did the right thing. At least, that’s what I want to believe. Sure, Microsoft is going to go in. Yahoo and IBM are going to go in. But Google? We thought…well, we thought you were different.

Apparently, Google is.

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Privacy: Is Zuckerberg Misreading? Or Is This a Story at All?

By - January 10, 2010

Reading coverage of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent commentary on his company’s newly changed privacy policies, I was struck with the urge to ask all of you a question: Do you think this is a big deal? Or is this simply the evolution of our society’s ongoing contract with the individual, an evolution that Facebook is reflecting?

In short, as Marshall submits in his article on RWW, is Facebook trailing public sentiment on privacy, or is he forging it? I’d love your thoughts in comments.

The Brewing Privacy Storm

By - December 14, 2009

We’re pushing it as an industry, I think. Google making all search personal and its leadership claiming privacy is for those with something to hide. Facebook pushing all data out into the world (and ticking off Danny, of all people). The advertising ecosystem leveraging more and more data, but not thinking hard enough about how that data is controlled. All of this is drawing the attention of major media and the folks who read it – IE, Congress.

We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

And we need to stop and take a breath before something happens we’ll all regret.

I’m heartened by all the privacy dashboards that Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others are creating and making available. But I think it’s time for us as an industry to really stop and think about this issue and address it. Because we can’t afford a conservative (and I mean that in the catholic sense of the word) backlash on this issue.

Just leaving a note here on this, as much to remind myself to spend time on this issue in the new year as anything…

This is the Facebook Step We Expected: Default Public

By - December 09, 2009

This is a big deal. Facebook is taking the final step to become more like Twitter. Thanks to RWW for pointing it out. I’ve been traveling and had not had a chance to read the new privacy settings, which state:

…we’ll be recommending that you make available to everyone a limited set of information that helps people find and connect with you, information like “About Me” and where you work or go to school…. This information is name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages….

The blog post explaining the changes amounts to a massive act of “burying the lead”, to use a journalistic phrase. The lead is “the core of the story.” To me, the fact that your status updates and other info will now be public is a pretty big story. But Facebook leads with this:

Today, we’re launching new tools to give you even greater control over the information you share.

This is true, and having a more instrumented cockpit for privacy is really cool (and a big deal on a site with 350mm folks). But nowhere in the post is the status message shift mentioned. RWW found it in the video explaining the changes in more detail:

According to the video explaining the changes, the new default for status messages is “everyone.” That’s a huge change. Of course it’s not hard for people to keep their existing privacy settings, but confusion around what those settings are is hardly resolved by the phrase “old settings” and a tool-tip phrase appearing when you hover over that option.

A substantial backlash has already begun in comments on the Facebook blog post about the announcement. Previous moves by the company, like the introduction of the news feed, have seen user resistance as well – but this move cuts against the fundamental proposition of Facebook: that your status updates are only visible to those you opt-in to exposing them to. You’ll now have to opt-out of being public and opt-in to communicating only with people you’ve given permission to see your content.

Clearly, this change was not made lightly. And clearly, this is a move that pushes Facebook more toward embracing and extending a Twitter like model in the future.

What’s next? Well, if the changes stand, expect a hell of a lot of action in the third party Facebook developer world….

A Step Toward Realizing the Data Bill of Rights Vision

By - November 05, 2009

google-dashboard.png

Danny was kind enough to ping me about this story, which breaks the news about Google’s new “Dashboard,” which is, in essence, a first start toward realizing the “privacy dashboard” I asked for so long ago (and again here), back when I was posting ideas like a madman (I’m going to be doing that again shortly, so watch out…).

It’s a big deal I think, even if most of us never use it. And it’s very smart of Google to lead here. It really had no choice, when you think about it. And it’s kind of cool to see stuff I wrote about here over three years ago happen in the real world.

The FCC No Likey What Apple Did to Google, Either

By - July 31, 2009

And they are opening an investigation into it.

According to a Dow Jones Newswire report, on Friday afternoon the FCC sent letters to Apple, AT&T, and Google. The federal inquiry asks Apple why the Google Voice application was rejected from its App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and why it removed third-party applications built on the Google app that had been previously approved. The federal commission also asks whether AT&T was allowed to weigh in on the application before it was rejected, and seeks a description of the application from its creator, Google, according to the report.

For background, see my piece chastising Apple here.

Is Being In the Mobile Biz License to Ignore the Internet?

By - July 28, 2009

sadmac.gif…and by the Internet, I mean the *values* of the Internet, in particular, the values of a platform. When you build a platform that leverages the Internet, it strikes me you should act like a player in that space – IE, not acting like a monopolist, a bully, or in your own self interest at the expense of those who use your platform – like your customers and developers.

Such seems the case with Apple’s refusal to allow two Google apps into the iPhone App Store. Yesterday’s ban – on Google Voice – is easy to understand – at least if you are venal and driven by the same corporate interests as your partner, AT&T. Voice bypasses AT&T’s networks and means less cabbage in AT&T’s pockets.

But Apple also banned Latitude, a mapping application. Why? Might it be because Apple has designs on that category? Or does AT&T?

In any case, if Apple wanted to give Android a boost, it sure as hell has done it. Actions like this are totally contrary to the spirit of the Web, and I hope Apple loses, big time, for taking them. At the very least, it feels like it’s time for Eric Schmidt to leave Apple’s board.

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Good Move, RIM: Warns Users of Spyware

By - July 22, 2009

RIM.gifJust saw this story in my feedreader, and thought it worth a mention:   

An update downloaded by BlackBerry users of a Middle Eastern wireless provider contained spyware that secretly read and stored text messages and e-mails, Research In Motion confirmed. Etisalat, a cellular service company based in the United Arab Emirates, released a firmware upgrade to BlackBerry subscribers on July 8 telling them its installation would improve the device’s performance and was required for continued service.

BlackBerry maker, Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion, said in a statement that it “did not develop this software application and RIM was not involved in any way in the testing, promotion or distribution of this software application.” Etisalat originally issued a press release that referred to the software as an official BlackBerry upgrade…..RIM has since issued its own utility allowing users to uninstall the application.

I think any time a major tech brand takes the high road when it comes to potential government spying, the entire Internet gets better. While no one will confirm this, I am sure, it’s likely that the update was included at the behest of a government agency of some kind. Kudos to RIM for doing the right thing, it reminds me of what Google did back in 2006, exposing the DOJ demands on search data.