<IT WORLD> Big Brother caught out By Martin J
HUA HIN, Thailand - Technology's Big
Brother has been caught at it again this week. The
search giant Google has admitted that it
"accidentally" spied on open wireless networks
using its Street View vehicles, which have been
harvesting data from personal computers while
touring city streets to collect images.
Google boss Eric Schmidt naturally
downplayed privacy concerns by stating that is has
caused no harm to anyone.
An estimated 600
gigabytes of data from unsecured wireless networks
in more than 30 countries were collected by Google
for its advanced GPS website. The MAC address,
which is a unique identifier for a device on a
network, was of particular interest as it can be
added to Google's vast database and correlated
coordinates in the van
to pinpoint the location of these networks and
Due to glitches in
three-year-old software, the company was also able
to siphon off any other unencrypted data over an
open WiFi connection such as user passwords,
e-mails, recently visited websites and posts on
social network sites. Google denied doing so and
has since stopped the data collection.
US group has called for a federal probe into the
incident and European countries are considering
taking action. The revelation was made after
German authorities asked to audit the data from
Google's Street View vehicles, and only then was
the company forced to make the admission.
Whether or not it has used or will use any
of the data it has collected will only be known by
Google employees. Schmidt has stated that they
will not delete any of it unless ordered to do so.
The fact remains that Google is now one of the
most powerful corporations on the planet, so we
should be made aware of what its capabilities are.
It would also be a good time to suggest that
people secure their wireless routers if they
haven't already done so!
In what seems to
be a counter offer to the embarrassing oversight,
the tech giant also announced that it will be
offering an encrypted search service over the
Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS)
protocol. Google tightened the security on Gmail
earlier this year following the unauthorized
access of several of its users' accounts by
Chinese hackers. It plans now to do the same with
search. However, it is unlikely that the company
will stop collecting data that helps it target its
ads, which delivered 97% of its vast and
ever-increasing revenue stream.
will be taking over more of our lives soon as it
has plans to invade living rooms with Google TV,
which was announced this week. The system will
allow viewers to access Internet content on their
televisions via a little Google-powered box. The
company aims to add search to TV programming
schedules so people can find what they want
quicker and easier without fumbling around with
remotes. Naturally there is likely to be
advertising, which will be based on your viewing
and searching habits - this is what Google does
Internet The battle
between free speech and religious sensitivities
escalated in Pakistan this week as the government
blocked both Facebook and YouTube in response to a
page that invited people to draw pictures of the
Prophet Mohammad. The "Everybody Draw Mohammed
Day" competition, which appears to have originated
in the United States, was based on an episode of
the American comedy series South Park, and has
upset the Muslim community in Pakistan and drawn
in free-speech advocates in that country.
Following a court order, the Pakistan
Telecommunication Authority (PTA) shut down access
to Facebook, the world's most popular website, on
Wednesday then proceeded to block YouTube the
following day for "blasphemous content". Since the
censorship surge, other major websites such as
Wikipedia and photo sharing site Flickr have
experienced outages in the country along with
Blackberry mobile services.
estimated that the blockages could cut up to 25%
of the country's Internet traffic and cost
millions of dollars to Facebook in lost revenue
from companies that use the site for advertising
purposes. Thousands of ads have been cancelled and
Pakistan's estimated 2.2 million Facebook users
have reacted angrily, many of them taking to the
streets in protest.
Also protesting were
those offended by the material, some claiming that
they will target embassies if Western nations
continue to use these Internet tools for
blasphemy; signs stating "Death to Facebook" were
hoisted at a rally in Islamabad, where hardliners
urged protesters to wage jihad on the West.
No announcements have been made as to if
or when the blockages will be lifted and tension
continues to mount both online and off.
E-mail Microsoft this week said
it will be updating its e-mail services for the
360 million people that use Hotmail. According to
the company it is the world's most popular e-mail
platform and it is time to get social with a
number of new enhancements.
version, due for launch in July or August, will be
integrated with the major players in social
networking, namely Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace.
The layout and graphical presentation will also
get a complete overhaul, bringing the look closer
to those used in Outlook, where e-mail management
will be made easier.
There will also be a
"conversation view", similar to that used by
Google's Buzz, and multimedia content directly
inside the inbox, so that users will also be able
to view Office documents from the inbox. Security
has also been promised an update, though Hotmail
at present employs some of the most stringent spam
filters on the web, which often leads to users
missing out on genuine e-mails.
likely that more of the decision making as to what
e-mail is genuine and what is spam will be done by
the system and not the user with the new version.
A number of other updates, dubbed "Wave
4", will encompass its Live platform and
applications that include Messenger and
Silverlight. The new Wave also includes updates to
the mobile platform, which will integrate into
Office Web Apps
[See Office in the clouds]
due for launch next month.
Telecoms Apple fanatics will be
getting hot under the collar as the company gears
up for the launch of its new 4G iPhone this
summer. Analysts at DigiTimes claim that Apple has
ordered 24 million units from their Taiwan-based
manufacturer Foxconn this year. The official
release date is expected to be announced at
Apple's upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference,
which runs from June 7 through 11. There is also
speculation about the unit being available on
another US network, namely Verizon; at present the
iPhone is officially available exclusively from
Meanwhile rival Google
has announced an Android update 2.2, dubbed Froyo,
which will work on any carrier and most handsets.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.