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Category Archives: Privacy

All Online Digital Roads Lead to Google Plus

All Online Digital Roads Lead to Google Plus
By Chris Abraham

Google can’t get any of us to use Google Plus, but they’re still trying. And they’re pushing hard. One of the reasons I love blogging is, for good or evil, I don’t need any evidence for anything I say. With that caveat, Google’s closing in on its goal of being federated across all of its properties, so be acutely aware. They’re triangulating us all and will soon be able to identify not merely what “you” — someone like you, a demographic generality — want, need, and desire, but what you, yourself, (or me, Chris Abraham), want in particular, down to, at most, your person (and the maximum 7.8 square meters around you).

Rejoice! I am no longer a 35–44 year-old white, college-educated, man, living in Metro Washington, I am 44-year-old Christopher James Abraham, who lives between Columbia Heights and Arlington Views, off of Columbia Pike in South Arlington, VA, who owns guns, motorcycles, spends money on eBay and Amazon, and loves eating fish tacos at Taqueria el Poblano during their weekday happy hour from 4-7pm — and many other very specific details of my life (like the fact that I attended the Nation’s Gun Show at the Dulles Expo Center).

Rejoice! Soon, Google’s reason for being will become truly manifest: all Google “organic” search results will be curated for my specific proclivities and all ads over all Google-associated and Google-partnered advertising networks, both online and offline, will be tailor-suited, bespoke, based on both my literal history of past searches, emails, subscriptions, and purchases but also based on a lot of cross-referencing that will try to predict my current, short, medium, and long term purchase and search decisions based on other close, similar users and algorithms that can now access petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes, and maybe even yottabytes real-time.

What does it mean? Well, I don’t care about my privacy, really, just my convenience. Then again, I am one of those guys who consider Minority Report to be more of a promise than a threat. I am one of those guys who grew up on The Well and the Meta Network, online communities that enforced real names anyway.

So, I am running full speed into the arms of big data to the extent that I recently gave up my Apple iPhone 5, a superior device, as my primary mobile device in favor of the new LG Google Nexus 5, a terribly-flawed-but-Google-integrated smart phone. But I am sold on the Google Empire because they stalk me so well.

The problem with the iPhone, as far as I am concerned, is how balkanized the phone is. It’s like the US: there is a Nation-State, Apple iOS, but the true power lies in the States, the Apps. Google Android phones are ruled by a federated, unified, Google OS, Android, with the Apps being mere applications under Android, with many of the top useful apps on Android devices being fully integrated Google Apps.

In the last six months, Google has made a lot of progress bringing us all in from the cold: from YouTube, from Google Search, from Picasa, Gmail, Google Apps for Business, Android phones, Google Play, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Blogger, Google Hangout (née Google Talk), Orkut, and even Google Groups.

To wit, my friend asked me if I had ever been to the Tilted Kilt, a Hooters-like bar wherein the girls wear very revealing variations of the Scottish Kilt. I remember having been there years ago while in Atlanta. I searched “tilted kilt chris abraham” and the photos I had taken popped up in images, images that I believe I might have shared on Google+ years ago. Until recently, these sorts of deep content had been disappeared and lock-boxed into the bellies of Google’s various properties for whatever reason (maybe to not freak people out, so that they felt more comfortable sharing on Plus without always ending up in search); now, more and more of Google’s users’ content will be the first content to show up on top (as long as the content is set to public).

What’s more, Google’s always been savvier than this. Google has always gamed serendipity by serving up search results that include the people who are in your Google network, be it in your Gmail Inbox, your Contacts, your Google+, Picasa, or through any connections. This has always been the case. My friends are always popping me notes saying how small the world is because how often they bump into my content when searching for information on social media, single speed biking, digital PR, marketing, motorcycles, or firearms — yes, indeed, the world is small, but Google’s mad skills are making it (at least appear) smaller and smaller within your circle of friends and larger social networks. And, circa 2014, this will become even more refined and as close as real time as is “humanly” possible.

In many ways, the moment you step into an online world as curated by Google’s algorithms, you’re indeed entering a sim, stepping into a simulacrum of sorts, one of which Narcissus would be proud: the perfect reflection of your hopes, wants, needs, world views, passions, and desires. We’ll all become the Kings of our online experience.

The Emperor’s new clothes; the emperor has no clothes!

When Google buys applications, web properties, new and cool websites, and all the rest, profiting directly from those acquisitions is not what they’re interested in. Google’s only interested in heading you, as an online denizen, off at the pass. What they want is to flush all of us online grouse out of the bushes so that they can finally get a good bead on us. When Google finally gets us all locked in their sights, they’ll be able to finally identify each and every one of us all the way down to as close to our social security, passport, and drivers license numbers as possible.

And that’s an excellent thing if you’re willing and able to remain safely ensconced in the warm, soft, velvety embrace of the Matrix — like me — though I am not sure if this will reassure everyone as much as it does me. And, since every action has a reaction, Google’s search engine algorithm has a profitable flaw: it tends to highlight and prioritize popular content. And, what content is generally most popular?

Salacious gossip, embarrassing revelations, revealing photos, humiliations, and defamations. The dark side, of course, but also not Google’s problem: they just give the public what they want, just like anyone else — and if they didn’t, someone else would — all the while running profitable inline, contextual, banner, pre-roll, and video ads.

And all of this fun stuff is pinned to Google+.

As the saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome.” And Google’s Rome is Plus. Now that Google has us all hooked, they’re integrating all of these properties into the new Google+, whether or not you are currently a registered member. If you’ve invested in Google in any way, you’re a potential Plus member; and, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll just jump in feet first. It’ll improve your participation everywhere else, trust me, starting with the world’s favorite site: YouTube. As you may know, Google’s changed access to YouTube commenting to prefer Google+ members.

Google’s almost completed their new roads project: all roads lead to Plus. Resistance is futile. Still fighting? This is quicksand mate, stop struggling and just relax into Google’s vision for your media future, both online and off. It’s beyond your control.

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Chris Abraham

Principal Consultant at Gerri Corp.
Chris Abraham is a leading expert in digital, including online reputation management (ORM), Internet privacy, social media marketing and digital PR with a focus on blogger outreach, blogger engagement and Internet crisis response.
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Journalism Professor Analyzes Role of Political Cartoons, Social Media During Syrian Crisis

Journalism Professor Analyzes Role of Political Cartoons, Social Media During Syrian Crisis
By Mike Krings


Political cartoons aren’t just for newspapers any more. A University of Kansas professor and her students analyzed how political cartoons were presented on Facebook during the Syrian uprising, the themes they explored, reactions to them and what they can tell us about social media use in Syria.

 

 

When Syrians rose up against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, the government began a severe crackdown against its people. Hyunjin Seo, assistant professor of journalism, and doctoral students Goran S. Ghafour and Ren-Whei Han archived and analyzed 164 political cartoons from the Comic4Syria Facebook page, a site devoted to posting cartoons from professional and amateur illustrators about the conflict and the suffering of the Syrian people. The researchers examined cartoons from July 24, 2012, when the page opened, until Nov. 23, 2013.Seo and her co-authors analyzed the images to understand more about the topics of the cartoons, the frames they used, characters depicted in them, how they depicted men, women and children and which types of images drew the most reaction from viewers.

Examining political cartoons from Syria in a digital age served several purposes, as social media has allowed more people to share political opinions freely. The medium is also undergoing transition from being the domain of newspapers, especially in countries such as Syria with significant media censorship.

“As the platform has become more democratic, I think there are a lot more studies that can be done about the role of political cartoons,” Seo said. “Their use in Syria was very interesting as the landscape of Syrian opposition is very complicated.”

The researchers analyzed the structure of the cartoons to determine common features. Of the 164 images studied, 81 percent featured Arabic only, while 11 percent featured English only and about 8 percent featured both Arabic and English. Nearly half, 47 percent, of the cartoons featured both male and female characters, 39 percent featured only male characters, and only 1.8 percent featured only female characters. The rest featured characters whose gender was unclear or did not feature human characters at all.

Of the cartoons featuring human characters, 60 percent featured only adults, while 28 percent featured adults and children, while 3.7 featured only children, and the remainder were characters whose age group was unclear.

Syrian cartoons averaged more than 243 “likes,” with the highest number of likes reaching 1,531. Comments made on the images averaged 11.77, ranging from zero to 110. The images were also shared frequently, including one that was shared 3,237 times.

The researchers examined frames used in the cartoons and identified six: freedom, oppression, international influence, hypocrisy, media influence and sectarianism. Oppression was by far the most common frame, at 52 percent, while freedom and international influence followed at 14 and 12 percent, respectively.

The president’s regime was by far the most common topic, featured in 89 percent of analyzed comics. Mental torture and physical torture were also common, featured in more than 50 percent of the cartoons as well.

The most common topics and frames did not necessarily draw the most viewer reaction.

“There were cartoons examining media effects and how they were distorting facts and supporting al-Assad’s propaganda,” Seo said. “Those were the cartoons that received the most likes.”

Cartoons with a hypocrisy or oppression frame followed media influence in most likes generated. Freedom and sectarianism received the fewest. Media-influence cartoons were also the most shared, followed by international influence and hypocrisy. Those patterns held true for cartoons that generated the most comments as well. Media influence was once again at the top.

In terms of cartoon topics, martyrdom was the most effective, generating more likes and comments than others such as mental torture, al-Assad’s regime and others. However, in terms of which topics were more likely to be shared, mental torture rated the highest, followed by martyrdom, international influence and the Syrian regime.

When examined by types of characters featured, those with political leaders of other countries received the most likes, comments and shares.

Seo and her co-authors will present their research in May at the International Communication Association Conference in Seattle. The research is part of an ongoing line of work in which Seo has analyzed the role social media can play in social change. She has studied social media use during the Arab Spring, Twitter images used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Internet connectivity in the Middle East. She is beginning a new grant-funded study in which she’ll analyze the Facebook use of al-Assad and opposition forces during the ongoing uprising and civil war. She was also selected as an emerging scholar by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in recognition of her work.

The analysis of Comic4Syria images not only adds to visual communication studies, it helps provide a deeper look at how Syrians viewed the uprising, especially important in a region of the world in which media censorship is common practice and crackdowns were common against both Syrian and foreign journalists.

“Social media has emerged as an important channel through which Syrian civilians document the Syrian revolution and people around the world get a glimpse of what was happening in Syria,” the authors wrote. “By analyzing political cartoons posted to the Comic4Syria Facebook page, this research helps provide a more nuanced understanding of digital media-facilitated communication practices in Syria.”

Mike Krings is a public affairs officer in the KU News Service.

The Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy’s (CICT) Comments On Silicon Valley’s Reform of Government Surveillance

The Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy’s (CICT) Comments
On Silicon Valley’s Reform of Government Surveillance
By Jeffrey Eisenach

First, the principles laid out by the coalition are hardly radical ones, but rather common sense expressions of rights most Americans surely thought, until recently, they already had.  If folks in the national security establishment have problems with any of these, they ought to explain what and why.

Second, based on what we know, it seems clear that many governments, including our own, have been violating at least some of these principles. The political problem facing the U.S. – as is so often the case in privacy matters – is the violation of expectations, which is another way of saying that the U.S. national security establishment appears to have been operating in a political vacuum, either imagining that its surveillance activities (e.g., the NSA’s 1.5 million square foot Utah data storage facility) would never be publicly revealed (Really?), or completely clueless to, and unprepared for, the reaction once they were.
 

 
Third, it would be interesting to assess the list of companies joining the coalition based on two variables:

(1) Government contracts as a percentage of revenues; and,

(2) Extent of operations in heavily regulated markets.

All of these companies, I’m confident, rank very low on both metrics.  I’m not criticizing anyone here, just noting that there is a relationship between a company’s ability to stand up for freedom, on the one hand, and its economic dependence on the state, on the other. (Imagine if John Hancock had been CEO of a publicly regulated utility and you get my drift.) That’s something civil libertarians who favor more government spending and regulation ought to keep in mind.

The debate will go on, and finding a sensible middle – one that protects our security without compromising our freedoms – will take some work.  Is it too much to ask President Obama, our Constitutional-Law-Professor-in-Chief who has presided over everything that is now coming to light, to consider getting out in front on this one?
 

Here are the five points from the firms’ statement:

1. Limiting Governments’ authority to collect users’ information
Governments should codify sensible limitations on their ability to compel service providers to disclose user data that balance their need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the Internet. In addition, governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of Internet communications.

2. Oversight and accountability
Intelligence agencies seeking to collect or compel the production of information should do so under a clear legal framework in which executive powers are subject to strong checks and balances. Reviewing courts should be independent and include an adversarial process, and governments should allow important rulings of law to be made public in a timely manner so that the courts are accountable to an informed citizenry.

3. Transparency about Government demands
Transparency is essential to a debate over governments’ surveillance powers and the scope of programs that are administered under those powers. Governments should allow companies to publish the number and nature of government demands for user information. In addition, governments should also promptly disclose this data publicly.

4. Respecting the free flow of information
The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust 21st century global economy. Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.

5. Avoiding conflicts among governments
In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty — or “MLAT” — processes. Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.

Jeffrey Eisenach is a visiting scholar at AEI. Eisenach has served in senior positions at the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of Management and Budget. At AEI, he focuses on policies affecting the information technology sector, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Eisenach is also a senior vice president at NERA Economic Consulting and an adjunct professor at the George Mason University School of Law, where he teaches Regulated Industries. He writes on a wide range of issues, including industrial organization, communications policy and the Internet, government regulations, labor economics, and public finance. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute.