Archive for July, 2010

Yes, we can bring law and order to the Wild West Web

By Neil O’brien
Last updated at 10:23 AM on 19th July 2010

The setting-up of a Facebook tribute page to the gunman Raoul Moat gave voice to a wave of emotion from some that surprised and shocked Britain.

The expressions of support and sympathy for Moat’s actions and the vitriol directed towards the police and his ex-partner revealed an astonishing disregard for both social norms and the rule of law.

The sheer hatred underlying some of the messages rendered them both too offensive to print in mainstream media, and simply incomprehensible to the vast majority of the public.

Controversy: The setting-up of the Facebook group in tribute to Raoul Moat has shocked Britain
Controversy: The setting-up of the Facebook group in tribute to Raoul Moat has shocked Britain

David Cameron captured this exactly when he said last week: ‘It is absolutely clear
that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man.’

It is difficult not to be struck by how unequivocally the Prime Minister responded with his swift condemnation of the material on the site. We have almost become used to being a society where the default is ‘non-judgment’.

The last Government was particularly odd in this regard. It combined a desperate desire to avoid moral judgment with a hair-trigger ­willingness to pass all-encompassing legislation – sometimes to an absurd degree.

Mr Cameron did precisely the opposite; he didn’t rush to regulate, but he did provide moral leadership. As a result, common sense prevailed and the page has since been removed from the site.

But in this case, the issue is really something more than freedom of speech, which is so often the defence used by providers of platforms, such as Facebook, to justify internet content.

Yes, the internet is a wonderful thing, providing access to a wealth of information that was unimaginable even a decade ago. But there is a darker side, too.

We must protect the right of people to say what they wish, however unpalatable it may be. That more than 30,000 people apparently signed Moat’s tribute page – many of their messages were said to be deeply misogynistic and even an incitement to violence against the police – is something that we should be concerned about.

Even a few decades ago, people would have been totally appalled by the comments. But now they are seen as ironic or normal.

Prime Minister David Cameron Angry: Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his disappointment with the setting up of a tribute page on Facebook to killer Raoul Moat – it has since been taken down

The internet, it seems, has become the Wild West of the written word. It is unregulated – or rather, the regulation does not appear to be enforced – in a way that would seem bizarre for any other form of media. As it stands, publishers, the printed Press and broadcasters are strictly regulated as to what they can say.

Any columnist or commentator expressing some of the sentiments on Moat’s tribute page would quickly – and justifiably – find themselves facing the wrath of the Press Complaints Commission or Ofcom, or even criminal investigation for ­incitement to violence.

Yet advocates of an unregulated internet commonly argue that blogs and social networking sites are no more than ‘e-age’ ­versions of a pub conversation. This is disingenuous. Rumours and gossip, slur and libel can be put up on the internet for anyone to see, and whizz round the world in seconds at the click of a mouse.

‘Going viral’ gives them the power to shred business, harm lives and ruin reputations.
Only last week, a judge warned jurors against researching cases on the internet after a teenager was found guilty of contempt of court for texting false rumours about a defendant to a member of the jury hearing his case.

It is damaging enough that people’s reputations can be unfairly maligned by internet gossip. But baseless rumours can leak into mainstream media.

It has been suggested that wall-to-wall coverage of the Moat case was influenced by views expressed on Facebook. When facts are thin on the ground, the mob mentality of some internet sites risks creating a false impression that the views of a vociferous minority are widely held or that fiction is fact.

Ask France’s First Lady and her husband Nicolas Sarkozy about the power of internet ­chatter. Earlier this year, speculation appeared on the social networking site Twitter that Carla Bruni had enjoyed a close relationship with a musician. This was rapidly relayed on other websites, and within a few days had appeared in newspapers and magazines in France, and picked up around the world.

Since the run-up to the World Cup, the web has been awash with lurid chatter about foot­ballers, High Court super-injunctions and sex scandals.

This is where the analogy of the internet as giant pub conversation really breaks down. Pub conversations can be easily forgotten and brushed off – or the landlord can throw a boorish, rude customer out of the pub.

Others say the Raoul Moat internet shrine was no different from the flowers and cards left at the site of his death. Yet the cards and flowers are seen by few and will soon be cleared away. But once on the internet, the genie, so to speak, is out of the bottle.
However, we know the internet is not immune from the law.

Two years ago, company director Mathew Firsht sued over a mischievous Facebook entry. Retired teacher Jim Murray was awarded damages over a former pupil’s insults on Friends Reunited.

There have been successful prosecutions for copyright and data protection violations.

But they seem rare, and we appear resigned to applying different standards where the internet is concerned.

Part of the difficulty is that the worldwide web is just that – a jurisdictional nightmare where communications cross national boundaries and multiple time zones. Add to this the pace at which the technology develops and it is clear that internet regulation will continue to be a thorny issue long after this media storm has blown itself out.

Doubtless, the Moat scandal will not be the last to shock us. But it has been instructive. In a sense, the internet holds up a mirror to our society. It shows us some things we might have preferred not to see.

But draconian legislation is not the answer. The laws that frame freedom of speech in books, newspapers, magazines and on television – copyright, libel and incitement – all apply to the internet.

It is simply that it is a new and little-understood medium and there is little attempt, in general, to apply the law. And yet it can be done, as the record industry showed when it successfully prosecuted over illegal free downloads.

On top of the existing laws, there is the little-known Electronic Trading EC directive of 2002, which gives all of us the power to fight back.

The directive gives providers of sites such as Facebook immunity from prosecution only if they act promptly to remove offending articles from the web when a complaint is made. Thus, if we want a ‘cleaner’ internet, it is up to us as individuals to complain about offensive material. Websites such as Facebook make it a simple matter to do so and they are compelled by law to comply.

In the digital age, Government cannot legislate for every problem. On the net, as in real life, it is the responsible actions of individual people and communities that ultimately create a good ­society – not government regulation.

There are laws and regulations, but we don’t obey them only because there is a policeman on every corner .

It seems our Prime Minister has instinctively understood this new challenge and provided moral leadership, rather than ill thought-out legislation. It is up to us as a society of internet users to use the existing laws to get the worldwide web we would like to see.

Source taken from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1295614/Raoul-Moat-Facebook-proved-bring-law-order-Wild-West-Web.html

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New Asian customer put in spotlight at Web in Travel 2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Media Asia Booming
Facebook Travel Internet

The new Asian customer and the way she plans, books and buys travel will be in the spotlight at this year’s Web In Travel conference taking place in Singapore in October.

“There is a new customer emerging in Asia,” said Yeoh Siew Hoon, owner of the conference. “She is extremely value-conscious and tech-savvy in the way she seeks and accesses information on the web, comparing not only prices but also what other people are saying about a product or service.

“Game-changing gadgets such as the iPhone or the iPad, social networks such as Facebook and travel review sites such as TripAdvisor are just some of the factors that are influencing traveller behaviour across the region.

“We also have a very Internet-savvy and mobile-connected generation of customers emerging in Asia. In July, Asia became the largest producer of tweets on Twitter and some of Facebook’s biggest growth markets are found in the region.”

This, she said, explains why TripAdvisor, the biggest travel review site in the world, and Facebook are setting up regional headquarters in Singapore.

Social networking activity is on the rise in Asia, as tracked by comScore, the global company that gathers digital media intelligence, showing that 50.8 percent of the total online population in the Asia-Pacific region visited a social networking site in February 2010, reaching a total of 240.3 million visitors.

Brett Henry, Vice President Marketing, Abacus International, the travel technology company which processes most of the region’s air reservations, said, “The people going to social networks are no longer just the younger generation. Granted that in Asia, there is still a market for the 50s and above who are less Internet savvy and prefer to book offline. But if you project ahead, in a decade or less, the Internet and social media savvy Generation C will be ruling the world.”

In India, for instance, more than one-third of its total Internet population visit travel sites with comScore reporting that top online travel brands are seeing double and triple-digit growth as consumers take to the web in search of deals.

AirAsia’s Facebook fan page grew from zero members to more than 200,000 within a year and now stands at 339,009 members.

Said Kathleen Tan, regional head of commercial for the airline group which will fly its 100th million passenger by the fourth quarter of this year, “With an average of 6,500 fans and over 33,000 visits to our fan page weekly, we know that they are taking us seriously on the social media front.”

Said Yeoh, “Everyone recognises the huge travel demand there is in Asia, not only in the major population areas of China and India, but also across the whole of South-east and North Asia. People are travelling either for the first time, thanks to low cost airlines, or for the umpteenth time, and they are branching out to try new places. And they are being adventurous not only in where they travel to but how they plan and book their travels.”

In July as well, Google, which commanded 72 percent of the search market in the US in May 2010 (Experian Hitwise), paid US$700 million to acquire ITA Software, a company whose technology solution helps travellers search for air fares.

“This development which sees Google moving into the travel vertical can only benefit travellers as this will spur the industry to improve search and make it easier for us to look for the best air fares to anywhere,” said Yeoh.

It is against this backdrop that leading travel marketing and technology experts from around the world will gather at the Web In Travel conference to discuss and debate the latest customer trends emerging in Asia.

Represented on the speakers list are new brands such as TripAdvisor; travel.co.jp, the publicly-listed Japanese meta travel search site; koreahotels.com, the leading online hotel portal in South Korea; NileGuide, the US-based travel planning site; Holiday IQ, the India-based travel media site that’s expanding in South-east Asia; and Indonesia’s Mandala Airlines, which is launching international services to Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau soon.

Established online travel brands such as Wotif, ZUJI/Travelocity, Expedia and Hotels.com will also be represented, along with the leading players in search, revenue management, social media, branding, marketing and distribution.

“What we wanted to do this year was to widen our net to cover players who are making waves in Asia Pacific, international brands who are entering the region and emerging markets such as Indonesia and Korea,” said Yeoh.

Close to 60 speakers have been confirmed, with more likely to be added in the months to come. Among the speakers are “archangel” investor Morten Lund who has co-founded and invested in more than 50 high-tech startups including Skype and online stockbroker Zecco; Adrian Hamilton-Manns, CEO of Mandala Airlines in Indonesia; Cui Guang Fu, CEO, Elong, China; Gerry Samuels, CEO, Mobile Travel Technologies; Hrush Bhatt, founder and director of Cleartrip/Small World in India; Marc Charron, managing director of TripAdvisor APAC; and William Bao Bean, partner, Softbank China & India Holdings.

Source taken from: http://www.etravelblackboardasia.com/article.asp?id=69382&nav=80

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Overview: Asia’s Social Media Scene

Thomas Crampton

Thomas Crampton | Asia-based digital strategist | Posted: July 12, 2010 07:20 AM

Asia’s diverse cultures, languages and levels of economic development have always made it an exciting place to work.

Now, however, Asia’s wide range of digital ecosystems have created wildly divergent virtual worlds that few people understand. These virtual worlds are, however, having a very real impact on Asias economics, politics and culture.

I run Ogilvy’s team of social media specialists in Asia and created this video for an internal meeting to show some recent developments across the region.

Countries in Asia with a similar level of development can have extremely different ways of approaching the Internet. In Korea, broadband connections are available virtually everywhere, while Japan’s Internet population is highly reliant on mobile.

Strong digital ecosystems are not only present in the most developed countries in Asia. In fact, Indonesia will soon overtake the United Kingdom as the second largest Facebook population in the world.

The average youth in China has more friends online than offline, while Australia has one of the highest levels of social media engagement in the world. Australians spend an average of 6 hours and 52 minutes a month on Social Media.

Most of China’s social media users are spread across three main social media Websites: Kaixin (30 million accounts), Renren (40 million accounts), and QQ (376 million accounts).

Chinese netizens use domestic social media rather than international versions like Facebook primarily due to government blockage of foreign social media, but also cultural preferences.

In Asia, Internet life is highly mobile:

· Vietnam had an 846 percent growth of mobile Internet users in 2009.
· In Japan, 84.3 percent of the population goes on the Internet with a mobile phone.
· In Taiwan, 73.3 percent of mobile Internet users have 3G.
· The population of smartphone owners in Hong Kong is 48.6 percent.

Asia’s social media sites also have diverse source of revenue. In contrast to Facebook, the primary revenue source for many Asia social media sites is the sale of virtual items online.

Facebook, QQ, Mixi, and Cyworld collectively generate $392 million (USD) in revenue a year from the sale of virtual goods in the Asian online market.

Source taken from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-crampton/overview-asias-social-med_b_642587.html

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Google Wins Renewal of Its China License, Xinhua Says

July 11, 2010, 7:04 AM EDT | Bloomberg | By Brian Womack and Mark Lee

July 11 (Bloomberg) — China’s government confirmed that it renewed Google Inc.’s Internet license, after the U.S. company’s local venture pledged to allow its Web content to be supervised by regulators, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Beijing Guxiang Information Technology Co., operator of Google’s China website, has undertaken to comply with Chinese law and provide no law-breaking content, Xinhua reported, citing an unidentified official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Getting the go-ahead gives Google, which disclosed China’s decision to renew its license last week, a chance to win search share lost to market leader Baidu Inc. and woo advertisers put off by the company’s half-year dispute with the government. Some Google operations were in jeopardy as it balked at censorship rules that require companies to filter Web content.

Google was surprised by how quickly China renewed the company’s Internet-services license, Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said in a July 9 interview. There were no formal negotiations between Google and Chinese officials over the decision, a person familiar with the matter said.

China renewed the license through 2012, and officials will revisit the decision annually. China’s government can still use its authority to yank the license if it deems Google’s compliance wanting, said Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Caris & Co. in San Francisco.

‘At Risk’

“Google remains at risk in China,” Aggarwal said. “Chinese regulators gave them a back door.”

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, went public with its dispute in January, saying it was no longer willing to comply with China’s filtering regulations.

“We look forward to continuing to provide Web search and local products to our users in China,” the company said on its July 9 blog. Spokeswoman Jessica Powell declined to say whether China had imposed any conditions on renewing the permit.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, won approval after changing the way it handled search requests. After closing its Chinese search engine in March, it had been automatically redirecting users to its unfiltered site in Hong Kong. To allay officials’ concerns, Google added an extra hurdle for Chinese Web surfers, directing them to a landing page that in turn pointed them to the Hong Kong site.

Complicating Search

That change comes at a price, said Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos.

“The landing page strategy for Google.cn adds one more complication to Google’s user experience in China,” Munster said in a July 9 research note. “Every step added to the search process will ultimately cause Google to lose some users.”

China also made concessions. Letting Google keep operating may help the government show it’s open to outside competition, said Scott Kessler, head of technology equity research at Standard & Poor’s, who rates Google “strong buy.”

“There were definitely risks if Google were to be unceremoniously dismissed from a country lock, stock and barrel,” said Kessler, who’s based in New York. “Then, you’d have Baidu as the sole, dominant player there with the likelihood of continued gains in market share.”

Google’s Schmidt, who was in Sun Valley, Idaho, for a conference with media executives, said in an interview he learned of the renewal decision early on July 9.

“This is the outcome we were hoping for, we just didn’t expect a decision this soon,” Schmidt said. “Literally, the good news came overnight.”

Candlelight Vigils

China’s decision may also constitute a nod to the Chinese people who voiced support for the company, partly through lighting candles outside Google offices, said Heath Terry, who rates Google “outperform” at FBR Capital Markets in New York.

“It signifies the importance of Google to China — from the candlelight vigils outside of the headquarters to the sheer usage numbers of Google in China,” he said. “Google is important to the Chinese people and I think the government heard that.”

Google’s decision to end self-censorship has cost the company partnerships with China Unicom (Hong Kong) Ltd. and Tom Online Inc., and lifted sales at Baidu.

“Google doesn’t really want to leave China, because it’s a very big market and there is a lot of potential for them,” Bruno Lippens, a fund manager at Pictet Asset Management SA in Geneva, said before the renewal. “It goes much broader than just business issues. It’s about cultural differences and fundamental beliefs like freedom of speech and privacy.”

‘Sophisticated’ Attacks

Google rose $10.93, or 2.4 percent, to $467.49 on the Nasdaq Stock Market on July 9. The shares have declined 25 percent this year.

Google resubmitted a license renewal application last week. The company had said in January it would stop censoring content and threatened to exit the Chinese market after cyber attacks originating from the nation targeted its systems.

The “highly sophisticated” attacks were aimed at obtaining proprietary information and personal data belonging to human-rights activists who use the company’s Gmail e-mail service, it said.

Since it began redirecting Chinese users, Google’s search results have been screened by China’s so-called Great Firewall, a government monitoring system that blocks overseas services such as Facebook Inc. and Google’s YouTube.

The firewall limits Chinese Web users’ access to information on topics ranging from Tibet’s independence movement to the 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Sliding Share

Google’s market share in China fell to 30.9 percent in the first quarter from 35.6 percent three months prior, according to data from research firm Analysys International. Baidu’s share increased to a record 64 percent from 58.4 percent, according to Analysys. Baidu fell $1.23, or 1.7 percent, to $71.20.

Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch estimated in April Google would generate $160 million in sales this year from China. That’s less than 1 percent of the company’s projected total revenue this year, according to the average of 29 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. It earned sales of about $335 million from China in 2009, according to Analysys.

China had 384 million Internet users at the end of 2009, the government estimates. That’s more than the total U.S. population, and according to EMarketer Inc., it may grow to 840 million by 2013.

Baidu in April said it benefited from Google’s “semi- exit.” The Chinese company expects “healthy” growth in customers and average spending by clients will continue, Baidu CEO Robin Li said in a conference call in April.

Baidu Ads

Google’s advertisers in China may have cut their spending by as much as 30 percent on average, and shifted their business mostly to Baidu, Credit Suisse Group AG analyst Wallace Cheung wrote in an April report. This has let Baidu charge higher prices, according to Cheung.

The license renewal comes after the U.S. said China took a “significant step” last month when it ended the yuan’s peg to the dollar and allowed markets to drive the currency higher. It’s not yet clear whether China’s policy shift will correct the yuan’s undervaluation, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

–With assistance from Pavel Alpeyev in Tokyo; Amy Thomson in New York; Andy Fixmer in Sun Valley, Idaho; Joseph Galante in San Francisco; and Yidi Zhao. Editors: Tom Giles, Nick Turner

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Lee in Hong Kong at wlee37@bloomberg.net; Brian Womack in San Francisco at bwomack1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at ycho2@bloomberg.net; Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net

Source taken from: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-07-11/google-wins-renewal-of-its-china-license-xinhua-says.html

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Turkey faces legal challenge over YouTube ban

Nichole Sobecki in Istanbul
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 4 July 2010 18.41 BST
The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul. The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, has spoken out against the ban. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

An internet rights group has launched a legal challenge in Turkey over a ban on access to a host of Google-owned sites.

The case, in which the Internet Technologies Association argues that the restrictions illegally discriminate against millions of users, is the latest front in an ongoing dispute that raises questions about free speech in a country attempting to join the EU.

“It’s an infringement on our fundamental human rights, the freedom of conversations and our right to information,” said Yaman Akdeniz, an associate professor of law at Istanbul Bilgi University and founder of the thinktank Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties.

Turkey’s censorship of the internet dates back to 2007, when a law was passed to tackle child pornography and websites that encourage suicide, drug use, gambling or prostitution. The law broadened state powers by creating a government office with the authority to shut down websites without a court order.

YouTube was banned in 2008 after a video was posted on the site showing Greek football fans taunting Turks and making claims about the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

But the site still regularly scores among the top 10 most visited in Turkey, largely due to the use of proxy servers to circumvent the ban.

“Some people call us Atatürk-haters because we want YouTube to be accessible in Turkey,” said Akdeniz. “But things need to change here.”

Ankara has accused Google of “waging a battle” against Turkey and dodging more than £13m in taxes generated from YouTube revenues – a charge that the US internet company has flatly denied.

Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s minister for transport and communications and the most visible figure behind the ban, said: “This site has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic, but Turkey will not accept this.”

But there has even been mounting anger over the ban among those in power. This month President Abdullah Gul expressed his opposition in a series of tweets, saying free speech restrictions were preventing Turkey from “integrating with the world”. He said he has instructed officials to look into ways to overcome the ban.

Richard Howitt, a British MEP and spokesman for the European parliament’s committee on Turkey, has warned that the ban puts “the country alongside Iran, North Korea and Vietnam as one of the world’s worst offenders for cyber censorship”.

Source taken from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/04/turkey-youtube-google-internet-rights

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Turkish group opens court case over Google services

Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:48am EDT

* Thousands of websites blocked in Turkey

* Turkey asking Google for $20 million in taxes

* Row sparks questions over freedom of speech

By Thomas Grove

ISTANBUL, June 28 (Reuters) – A Turkish Internet rights group opened a court case on Monday to end what it says are illegal restrictions on Google services, the latest step in a debate over Internet freedom in Turkey.

Turkey has clashed with Google before and closed down Google’s (GOOG.O) video sharing platform YouTube in 2008 for videos it said insulted the country’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Internet advocates say efforts to limit access to the video website have caused illegal restrictions on other Google services such as Google Maps and Google Analytics.

“Millions of Internet users and thousands of companies that use Google services have been victimised,” said the Internet Technologies Association in a statement sent to the court.

The group says access to Google services has slowed down and in some cases became unavailable after Google Internet Protocol (IP) addresses were blocked in an attempt to hinder access to other websites.

The Internet Technology Association opened a court case against Turkey last year at the European Court of Human Rights over the banning of YouTube, one of thousands of Internet sites that are closed in Turkey, a European Union candidate country.

Turkey wants Google to open an office in Turkey and says the Internet giant owes some $20 million in taxes from revenues generated from the video site.

“(YouTube) has entered a fight with the Turkish Republic,” said Communications Minister Binali Yildirim last week.

“No matter how much of a fuss is made, we will not bow our heads,” he said in parliament.

Google representatives in Turkey did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Turkey‘s AK Party government says it has broadened the scope of public debate since taking power in 2002. But curbs on websites have raised concerns. Freedom of speech reforms have ground to a halt in recent years, while the number of closed Internet sites has risen.

As of May 2009 nearly 3,000 Internet sites were closed, according to Turkey‘s information technology watchdog, though advocacy groups put the number nearer 5,000.

“There is no one here in Turkey that makes the effort to protect freedom of expression, there are 60,000 different videos about Turkey in YouTube, and ten have been found to be insulting,” said Mustafa Akgul, head of the advocacy group and an Internet expert at Bilkent University in Ankara.

Analysts have criticised the ease with which citizens can apply to have an Internet site closed down, with a form readily available on the information technology board’s website.

Most sites in Turkey closed by court order are due to allegations that they encourage suicide, contain libel, child pornography, help users access drugs or promote prostitution. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Source taken from: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSLDE65R1AB20100628

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Taking the Mystery Out of Web Anonymity

By JOHN MARKOFF

THE Obama Administration is trying to fix the Internet’s dog problem

The problem, as depicted in Peter Steiner’s legendary 1993 New Yorker cartoon, is that on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. And thus the enduring conundrum over who can be trusted in cyberspace.

The Internet affords anonymity to its users — a boon to privacy and freedom of speech. But that very anonymity is also behind the explosion of cybercrime that has swept across the Web.

Can privacy be preserved while bringing a semblance of safety and security to a world that seems increasingly lawless?

Last month, Howard Schmidt, the nation’s cyberczar, offered the Obama administration’s proposal to make the Web a safer place — a “voluntary trusted identity” system that would be the high-tech equivalent of a physical key, a fingerprint and a photo ID card, all rolled into one. The system might use a smart identity card, or a digital credential linked to a specific computer, and would authenticate users at a range of online services.

The idea is to create a federation of private online identity systems. Users could select which system to join, and only registered users whose identities have been authenticated could navigate those systems. The approach contrasts with one that would require a government-issued Internet driver’s license. (Civil liberties groups oppose a government system, fearful that it could lead to national identity cards.)

Google and Microsoft are among companies that already have these “single sign-on” systems that make it possible for users to log in just once but use many different services.

In effect, the approach would create a “walled garden” in cyberspace, with (virtually) safe neighborhoods and bright (cyber) streetlights to establish a sense of a trusted community.

Mr. Schmidt described it as a “voluntary ecosystem” in which “individuals and organizations can complete online transactions with confidence, trusting the identities of each other and the identities of the infrastructure that the transaction runs on.”

Still, the administration’s plan has divided privacy rights activists. Some applaud the approach; others are apprehensive. “It seems clear,” Lauren Weinstein, the editor of Privacy Journal, wrote “that such a scheme is a pre-emptive push toward what would eventually be a mandated Internet ‘driver’s license’ mentality.”

The plan has also been greeted with skepticism by some computer security experts, who worry that the “voluntary ecosystem” envisioned by Mr. Schmidt would still leave much of the Internet vulnerable. They argue that all Internet users should be forced to register and identify themselves, in the same way that drivers must be licensed to drive on public roads.

“The privacy standards the administration wants to adopt will make the system both unwieldy and less effective and not good for security,” said Stewart Baker, a former chief counsel of the National Security Agency who favors government-issued Internet driver’s licenses.

But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights group, said such criticism was unfair. He said the Obama administration had created a policy framework that will make it possible for private industry to improve privacy and security technologies.

Some members of the Internet’s technical community say that the Web-of-trust approach is too little, too late to solve the Internet’s security problems. The problem is no longer just about cyberspace stalkers, thieves and con artists, but about the trustworthiness of the very fabric of the network itself.

“We’re now seeing attacks on the Internet’s plumbing,” said Rodney Joffe, senior technologist at Neustar, an Internet infrastructure firm. “If you get control of the plumbing there are lots of things you can do because the plumbing was never designed for a world where there is a lack of trust.”

The essential plumbing components are the routers, which direct traffic on computer networks. Operators of these routers — mostly private companies — share instructions with each other on how to direct that traffic. They trust the information is accurate. But at least three times this year, a substantial fraction of the global network’s messages were mis-routed through China, potentially opening millions of users to spying or tampering. Chinese Internet engineers say the misroutings were mistakes; other engineers are not so sure.

“If our web of trust is corrupted or penetrated or broken, I don’t quite know what to do about that,” said Vinton Cerf, a Google vice president and one of the designers of the Internet. “That’s one of the nightmares that I worry about.”

He is pushing efforts to create standards that would secure the Internet’s plumbing, though those may take longer than a decade to be put in place globally. As for making the network more secure for users, he said he was optimistic and that he saw a relatively straightforward — though not exactly inexpensive — way to make the network more secure.

In the future, he envisions a card that each of us will carry, perhaps equipped with a fingerprint reader, that will in effect be a one-time password system. It will digitally hold all of our different personalities: who we are at work, while playing on-line games, banking and using our smart phones and make it possible for others to be sure we are who we say we are.

But Mr. Joffe said he worried that the time for such systems might already have run out.

“Imagine what would happen if people lost trust in using the Internet: what would that do to our economy?” Mr. Joffe asked. “You would have to go down to your local bank branch and you’d join 5,000 other people waiting to do their banking. That infrastructure has gone away and the banks can’t cope with it anymore.”

Source taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/weekinreview/04markoff.html?_r=1

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