Search neutrality

Another kind of neutrality I was not aware of: Search neutrality, i.e. forcing search engines to remain objective and neutral in the results they provide. It is a complex and highly subjective issue, but Google has a huge leverage on millions of websites, and the company is now being investigated by the European union on whether it abused its dominant position.

The problem with search neutrality? By definition, search engines are subjective, they filter some sites in, other sites out. “Telling a search engine to be more relevant is like telling a boxer to punch harder […] Search is an inherently subjective enterprise that makes a mockery of attempts to regulate it into some sort of neutral form” says James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at the New York Law School, on Ars Technica.

A recent attempt to find a biais in Google resulted in Search Engine Watch (a reference on the matter) concluding that there is little to no biais, and that other engines might be even worse.

What we see here might be more of a cultural clash, the “business centric” americans finding it normal that a large company provides a highly influential service, while Europeans have a more centralized approach and get scared when lots of power is between the hands of somebody else than a government. Liberalism vs socialism, if I’m allowed a simplification that George W. Bush could have fathered (sorry).

Regulating search will be extremely complicated, and users certainly don’t want a government to be able to weight on what search engines return either (which would be the other extreme). I wonder what would happen if Google was founded by Europeans and operating from France or Germany. How different would the algorythm be, and would Google still inspire fear to the Sarkozys and Merkels of this world? Where is Quaero when you need it 😉 ?

PS: Another example of EU vs Google, the spanish government asking Google to take down some links and grant a right for forget to its citizens.
PS2: More on the matter: Is Google Favoring Itself In Its Search Results?

The Internet’s Top Challenges

Internet co-inventor Vinton Cerf, Martha Stewart, Arianna Huffington, John Battelle and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone are among the Webby award judges who shared their idea of what are the Internet’s top challenges. No real surprises, and I would add the reappearance of the major incompatibilities between platforms – especially in mobile – that remind me of the early days of the web, when a website had to be coded carefully for incompatible browsers like Netscape and Internet Exporer.

Protecting Privacy
The Internet’s great trade-off is that while you get access to the rest of the world, the rest of the world gets access to you. The data collected can add value to the online experience through customized content and advertising – but such an extensive record of personal information can pose risks to consumers. The industry must take steps to demystify the privacy debate by establishing global standards, providing transparent policies, and educating consumers on its practices.

Modernizing Copyright Laws
Is it ok to copy an album and give it to a friend? How many paragraphs should one quote from an online news article? Will we ever be able to pass along an e-book to a colleague? As the Web enters its third decade, the answers to these questions remain unclear. The Internet’s power as a medium through which creators can distribute their work continues to grow, yet the current copyright laws are hopelessly out of date. For the Internet to fulfill its potential, new and modernized copyright laws must reflect the current relationship between technology and creativity.

Ensuring Net Neutrality
Ensuring that all Internet traffic is treated equally – meaning that data from and data from a teenager’s blog move along the pipeline at the same speed – is a worthy and complicated goal. Industry leaders and policymakers need to come together and identify solutions that will guarantee fair treatment of all Internet traffic. However, these solutions must also provide ISPs with enough flexibility to efficiently manage their networks and services.

Maintaining the Open Web
From commenting on articles and sharing videos to crowd-sourcing and user-generated content, the Internet’s interactivity and communal power is what makes it such a vibrant and useful medium. While social networks and mobile apps offer rich, interactive, and customized experiences, many of their features are often sheltered from the rest of the Web. If the Internet as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, we must do a better job of maintaining interconnectivity.

Strengthening Internet Security
Until recently, there has been little examination of the consequences of storing large amounts of proprietary information online. The recent spate of high-level incidents – from WikiLeaks to China’s hacking of the Internet – has made the perils of weak online security a tangible issue. Everyone, from governments and businesses to universities and individuals, must re-evaluate how they share, store, and publish sensitive information on the Internet – take steps to ensure it is protected.


New celebrities: the star shoppers

Somehow the advent of celebrity shoppers does not make me feel better about the world we live in 😉 Consuming is what makes the economy go, but there is something really disturbing when it becomes a full time job!

As of May 2010, boasted 2,418,069 shops, 13,431 malls and was adding about 30,000 shops per month. That’s enough to make it the world’s largest online retailer. […]

Chinese consumers find their way around Taobao based on a combination of instinct, research and trust, facilitated by Taobao’s wangwang (旺旺) messaging service. But it’s not as simple as checking a vendor’s “HEART” rating. There are certain key users–Taobao royalty–who’ve become genuine powerbrokers in this multi-billion dollar community by obsessively buying stuff, documenting every purchase and recommending their favorite shops.

The Wasabi Twins got their start a few years ago with a blog before graduating onto Taobao. It wasn’t long before they’d risen through the daren ranks and now they rule over Taobao’s Celebrity Shopper Street (名人导购街), boasting 5,763 followers and a million fans. They were featured on the cover of a Vogue (China) fashion supplement in July 2010 under the header “From Taobao Girls to ‘It’ Girls.” In November a Korean fashion house flew them over, took them shopping and photo-documented every stop along with way.

Link (via Bruce Sterling)

Software nationalism

Code is culture, as Basile Zimmerman told us at Lift10. Further proof is coming this week as the Wall Street Journal reports on Russia, China and Iran making moves to ensure they keep a certain level of independence from American proprietary software:

[…] Mr. Putin’s motives are not strictly economic. In all likelihood, his real fear is that Russia’s growing dependence on proprietary software, especially programs sold by foreign vendors, has immense implications for the country’s national security. Free open-source software, by its nature, is unlikely to feature secret back doors that lead directly to Langley, Va.

Nor is Russia alone in its distrust of commercial software from abroad. Just two weeks after Mr. Putin’s executive order, Iran’s minister of information technology, citing security concerns, announced plans for a national open-source operating system. China has also expressed a growing interest. When state-owned China Mobile recently joined the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit entity behind the most famous open-source project, one of the company’s executives announced—ominously to the ears of some—that the company was “looking forward to contributing to Linux on a global scale.”


As the WSJ notes, “Information technology has been rightly celebrated for flattening traditional boundaries and borders, but there can be no doubt that its future will be shaped decisively by geopolitics”. Governments are increasingly aware of the fact that putting their IT on a foreign technology can have deep implications. And with the IT world being dominated by the US, we can see countries disputing the American supremacy (add Brazil and India to the list) taking the lead on the open source movement, the only real alternative available.

Is that why in the US, some “influential lobby group is asking the US government to basically consider open source as the equivalent of piracy“?

In the end, it will be interesting to see both forces fight each other. Traditionally in technology, open always wins. But this time the companies selling proprietary software could easily convince their governments of the positive effects of spreading their culturally biassed technologies to the rest of the world, and get their support in the process.

It also makes me wonder what will happen to programs like Microsoft Grant(which create controversies like this one) that consist in giving free proprietary software to developing countries (among others). While I was working at the UN, the general view was that it was a way to inspire loyalty to the products. It is a very cynical view of the world – and true benefits can be obtained from using these softwares – but as the geopolitical dimension comes into play, will developping countries resist those donations and turn to open software?

Lots of open questions, and a topic worth following in the coming years.

Conférence TechnoArk 2011: Internet + Mobiles = Nouveaux Consommateurs?

La Conférence TechnoArk revient le 28 janvier 2011 à Sierre pour une sixième édition consacrée à l’équation: Internet+Mobiles = Nouveaux Consommateurs?

Origine des produits, informations nutritionnelles, comparaison de prix, achat par mobile, partage d’avis ou d’expérience au sein de ses différentes communautés, consommation de médias, chacun de ces nouveaux services innovants fait naitre chez les consommateurs de nouvelles questions, de nouvelles exigences, voir de nouveaux arbitrages et donc autant de nouveaux défis pour les fabricants et distributeurs de produits de grande consommation, comme de contenus médias.


Venez résoudre cette équation avec les acteurs les plus avancés de l’Internet Mobile:

Stéphane Hugon, sociologue, professeur à l’Université Descartes Paris V (Sorbonne)
Diane Taillard, solution director – GS1 Global (Bruxelles)
Georges Edouard Dias, digital corporate – groupe L’Oréal (Paris)
Philippe Azan, innovation manager – The Nielsen Company (Cincinnati)
Laurent Sciboz, responsable des instituts de recherche IT du TechnoArk
René Le Caignec, CEO MoWo Technology (Sierre)
Jean Christophe Hermann (TBC), directeur marketing digital – Groupe CARREFOUR (Paris)
Scott Poynton, directeur de l’ONG TFT- Genève
Xavier Comtesse, directeur romand d’Avenir Suisse
Laurent Haug, fondateur des conférences Lift, assurera la modération de l’événement

More information and registration.

‘Toylet’ Games in Japan’s Urinals (for guys only ;)

Sega has announced that it’s testing consoles called “Toylets” in urinals around Tokyo. The novel hardware asks the user to strategically vary the strength and location of his urine stream to play a series of games. […]

Each urinal is installed with a pressure sensor. An LCD screen is mounted on the wall above, letting the gamer select from and play four different minigames. There’s “Mannekin Pis,” which simply measures how hard you can pee, and “Graffiti Eraser,” which lets you remove paint by pointing a hose in different directions.

There’s the faintly misogynistic “The Northern Wind, The Sun and Me,” where you play as the wind trying to blow a girl’s skirt up, and the harder you pee, the harder the wind blows.

Link in Japanese (see also the Wired article)

Half of French teenagers have published information on someone else without their consent

A recent French study highlights a paradox of web 2.0. While 39% of 15-17y have been victim of someone else publishing information (photos, videos, email) on them without permission, 49% of that same age group say they have once published these information on others without their consent.

It is probably a misleading figure for three reasons:

  • Doing it once does not mean you do it all the time and that it is a way of life.
  • The people who publish on me are probably not the people I publish on. It would be interesting to separate the statistics by “type” of people, the family, the friends, people I like, people I don’t like. Maybe it is in that last category I will publish information without asking.
  • Maybe these teens are publishing information to closed spaces (like when you limit access to a post to close friends only on Facebook, formally a publication, but not to the world), the study does not differentiate between public and private.

Still, this shows that there is a difference in perception and some learning to do. Some will qualify this as unconsciousness (not being aware of the price of exposure), but I find that interpretation unlikely as this generation is very tech-savvy and is in control of their identity. See sociogeek to learn more on how people expose themselves online.

Top: Who has seen information on him/her published by another web user?
Bottom: Who has published information on someone else without his/her consent?

Online gaming curfew

While France is re-establishing curfews for teenagers, Korea is dealing with other problems tied to online gaming addiction. The authorities are discussing the creation of an online gaming curfew:

Not only does South Korean have the largest online gaming community in the world, it also has its fair share of tragedy associated with it. Several incidents have been reported in which gaming has directly, or indirectly, ended in death.

A 15 year old South Korean boy was alleged to have murdered is mother, before committing suicide, after being scolded for playing online games for too long. In another case, an older male died after a non-stop gaming session lasting over five days.

It’s not just the extreme cases that have led the South Korean government to consider requiring Internet service providers to cut off access to online games, for all users under the age of 16, for the six hours following midnight.


The downside of transparency

Wikileak is raising many questions, as the recent media frenzy around Julian Assange’s baby has proven. One of them is discussed by Ben Hammersley in a recent interview:

While I really support the idea of a safe place for whistleblowers to publish information, I have a problem with the fundamentalistic approach Wikileaks is taking. Their basic assumption is that because something is secret, it must be bad. Reality is more complex. Diplomats are like us simple citizens. They should be allowed to have private conversations and opinions. It seems this social dynamic is not well understood as the recent publications of the cables proves.


Total transparency could be a way of life? There is a country where is happens already (to some extent), and the results are not necessarily the ones we would expect. Time is publishing an article about the downsides of total transparency in Sweden:

but there’s one country where official openness is not just a hypothetical way of governing. Sweden operates closer to an “Assangian” state of absolute transparency than any country in the world, and has long debated whether the policy has the potential to backfire. Swedish sunshine laws are the most far-reaching ever created. Almost every government document — including all mail to and from government offices — is available to the public, save for a small number relating to international relations or national security. […]

But even as it takes its transparency laws for granted, Sweden has long debated whether absolute openness leads, paradoxically, to greater secrecy. In 2004 Inga-Britt Ahlenius, a Swede working on transparency issues within the United Nations, […] tried to review government files, she found only “empty boxes.” “The principle has come to discourage its original purpose,” she added. “It is quite logical: if you are concerned that things will be made immediately public, you do not write it on paper.”