HUA HIN, Thailand - The battle between Google's video-sharing YouTube website
and the Turkish authorities raged on this week when the country blocked the
service only days after releasing it from a two-and-a-half-year blackout within
A Turkish court flipped the switch on the site following the republication of a
number of old videos that it deemed insulting to the republic's founder,
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
During the original ban, which was the result of a May 2008 court order, a
Turkish group of self-described "volunteers" working closely with the
government managed to get the clips removed by using Google's automated
copyright infringement system. Noting
that the offensive material had been removed, the courts lifted the ban and
Turks last weekend were able to use YouTube for the first time in over two
Google apparently did not agree with this and reinstated the videos, claiming
that they were not copyright infringing, hence the reinforcement of the ban.
Many observers claim that the group's actions in attempting to remove the clips
were a precursor to censorship on a wider scale. Turkey's restrictive Internet
laws have been responsible for the blocking of more than 5,000 websites within
the country. However, its net-savvy population is quite adept at using proxy
servers to circumnavigate government-imposed website outages.
One of the world's busiest Internet censors came under attack this week in the
lead-up to elections on Sunday. Myanmar has far from a free flow of online
information, but what little does enter the reclusive country was bought to a
standstill this week following a number of "denial of service" attacks.
The ruling junta has banned foreign press and observers from covering the
elections, leading many to conclude that the exercise will be a farcical show
far flung from any hope of democracy. It is also widely believed that the
military rulers orchestrated the cyber-attack themselves to stem the flow of
information to the rest of the world.
In Syria, preparation is being made to vote on a law that will restrict the
flow of online information even further in the country. The law would allow
police to enter editorial offices to arrest journalists and seize their
computers, and online media would be strictly governed by the Information
Ministry, which would have the power to block any websites that were critical
of the government.
Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders has added Syria to its
ever-growing list of repressive countries in terms of Internet censorship.
During the lead-up to the holiday season in the Western world, Microsoft is
preparing for a gaming bonanza with the release of its motion-sensing immersive
platform, Kinect. The device will rival Nintendo's pioneering Wii as it enables
gamers to use their entire body to interact with the software, as opposed to a
Released this week, the flat black box camera console retails at US$150 as a
standalone unit or $300 when purchased with a Xbox 360. The company has raised
its forecast for sales this year to 5 million units from 3 million following
the sellout of pre-sales orders on Amazon.com and other online retailers.
With Kinect, Microsoft aims at casual and social gamers as opposed to hardcore
shooters, drivers, real-time strategists, and role-players that usually stick
to high-specification PCs to get their kicks. At the moment, the selection of
titles is a little thin with games offering sports, adventures, fitness and
quirky dancing similar to those originally available on the Wii. Also, like its
rivals, it offers personal avatars and online integration with all of the other
services the company offers.
For the new console to be a true success once the novelty factor has worn off
it must offer a wide range of titles appealing to all gamers, not just the
housewives and teens who the Kinect seems to be initially targeting.
In recent months, Google has been getting a little too big for its boots by
picking fights with various countries that actually respect the right to
personal privacy. This week was no exception, when the company attempted to sue
the United States for unfairly excluding it from a software deal to revamp
e-mail systems at the US Department of the Interior.
The five-year contract, worth about US$59 million, went to rival Microsoft,
which provided a specially designed federal version of their Business
Productivity Online Suite. A disgruntled Google called the decision "arbitrary,
capricious and unduly restrictive of competition"; it offered its own Google
Apps for Government software suite but was rejected on the grounds that it did
not comply with the department's security requirements.
The irony in Google claiming that something is anti-competitive is beyond a
joke. Security may also have equated to privacy in the federal decision,
something for which Google has not been scoring many points recently.
It seems Google has been rather concerned over security as it has started
offering rewards to users who discover and report bugs on company websites and
services. The bug bounty was announced on the Google blog on Monday. "We are
announcing an experimental new vulnerability reward program that applies to
Google Web properties," Google said. "As well as enabling us to thank regular
contributors in a new way, we hope our new program will attract new researchers
and the types of reports that help make our users safer."
Payments are commensurate with the seriousness of the vulnerability and range
from $500 to over $3,000 for flaws including XSS, server-side code execution,
cross-site scripting, and bypass authorization errors. The program builds on
similar incentives Google started offering this year via its Chromium
vulnerability reward program. Android and its ancillaries are not at present
included in the reward scheme.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.