Technology

Convergence of Internet search and social networks

For the last several years, technology gurus have predicted that Internet searches will become “more social.” They anticipated that information people shared about themselves, their interests, and their opinions through social media outlets would increasingly appear in results delivered by Internet search engines like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft’s Bing. The reason for their prediction: users want this information to help in making their own decisions about what products to buy or services to use.

The predictions are rapidly becoming reality. A simple search on all three of these large search engines already yields results that include Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Tumblr sites and LinkedIn profiles. All three search engines have begun to merge Internet searches with social media data, and the trend is likely to accelerate.

Just as the search engines work to fold in social results, the largest social media sites are acting more like search engines. An entry in Facebook’s “search” box once returned only results on Facebook users. But today it also includes results from Microsoft’s Bing search engine along with Facebook user data. The boundaries between the search and social media sites are increasingly disappearing - yet another example of the fluidity of the Internet. In fact, Facebook, citing the highly competitive nature of its business in its recent S-1 filing, identifies both Google and Microsoft as competitors.

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Cybersecurity is a 'team sport'

The federal government possesses cybersecurity threat information and technical capabilities that private enterprises simply do not have. But what is the proper role of the government in the cyber realm? Should it provide cybersecurity for the private sector, or should the government require that the private sector secure its own networks to a particular standard? These topics are currently under great debate in both the House and Senate.

The Internet is a complex system, made up of a growing number of networks and digital devices. It would be exceedingly difficult for any one body or organization to manage and ensure the integrity (viability) of the Internet and all devices that connect to it without massive resources and sweeping authorities, including the standardization of security practices. Such standardization could restrict and slow the innovation that has sparked the global technology industry; could limit the flexibility, and thereby the value, a network provides to its owner; and, in the long run, could actually make networks more vulnerable, especially in instances of state-sponsored hacking. At a time when we’re still struggling with the impact of the economic downturn, new standards and regulations would be poorly received.  

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Privacy concerns and technological change: the legislative option

In the recent Supreme Court case where all nine justices agreed that placing a GPS tracking device on a car without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment, Justice Alito observed that "in circumstances involving dramatic technological change, the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative." But since there was no GPS tracking device law for guidance, Justice Alito and his colleagues looked to Fourth Amendment precedent to analyze warrantless use of the new(ish) GPS technology and to create a privacy solution. Henceforth, as a matter of Constitutional law, police need a warrant before they attach a GPS tracking device to someone's car. The Supreme Court came up with the right result even without a specific statute.

Justice Alito is not alone in thinking that privacy legislation is the best way to deal with technological change. Last year, dozens of bills were introduced in Congress to regulate online tracking, to create rules for the collection of geolocation data, to protect children's privacy and to regulate the collection and use of personal data generally. None were passed, but attention to privacy issues reached a new high and included a series of high-profile Congressional
hearings.

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What I saw at the revolution

With all due respect, the golden-penned Peggy Noonan said it first, but I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrow her iconic phrase because I think we may have just had another revolution. It’s politics of a different sort this time, though - or maybe it’s not politics at all.  Unlike the big-haired, big-everything 80s, (I know. I was there and my hair was big) in 2012 you have bitter, polarized Republicans and Democrats – and then you have the Internet. If any of that was in doubt, on January 18, 2012, the Internet officially arrived, albeit with the weirdest terms ever – SOPA and PIPA - bills that may be dissected and discussed and obsessed over for years to come as the acronyms that changed everything.

Perhaps you saw it. Perhaps you participated; clicked through Google’s censorship Doodle or found that Wikipedia was dark and clicked to find out more instead of being annoyed you might have to actually go to the library, whatever that is. Maybe you went to Craigslist to look for used IKEA furniture in suburban Chicago only to find SOPA and PIPA all over the page and the next thing you knew, you were calling your Senator for the first time in your life. Maybe you were standing in the checkout line at a Walgreens in Atlanta and heard the checkout guy explaining to the stock clerk that SOPA is a threat to Internet freedom.

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FCC can prevent crisis by moving on Spectrum now

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission are mired in a debate over how to free more spectrum for wireless broadband. Meanwhile, it’s been nearly two years since the White House and FCC promised to double the amount of spectrum we currently have for mobile broadband. It’s time for government to stop standing in the way of solutions to the looming spectrum crisis.

Americans are beginning to feel the spectrum crunch already in densely populated cities. While most may blame their cell phone company for slow or unresponsive service, the true fault is government. Wireless carriers spend over $20 billion dollars per year just to upgrade and maintain wireless networks. But maintaining roads only has a residual impact on traffic when what are needed are more lanes. With spectrum, the government has been slow to provide.

The last major spectrum auction was back in 2008. Yet, the FCC is sitting on spectrum it can auction today, including the D Block. Meanwhile, they helped kill the AT&T/T-Mobile merger aimed at using spectrum more efficiently to expand coverage and capacity. And they’ve slowed AT&T's purchase of Qualcomm spectrum. Here’s to hoping they don’t stall Verizon’s purchase of unused spectrum from cable companies.

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Spectrum delay is not an option

From connected cars, to pet-tracking tools, to cutting-edge advances in medical devices, last week's International Consumer Electronics Show was nothing short of dazzling in the diversity of the devices that were on display. Indeed, it seemed the one thing all the new devices shared -- along with the tens of thousands of innovators who came to Las Vegas to see them first-hand -- is a wireless Internet connection. In many ways, mobile technology and wireless connectivity is now the glue that is holding the dynamic centrifuge of American innovation together.

This increasing reliance on the wireless Internet holds great promise, not only for American consumers but also for the American economy. But progress can quickly be stalled -- or even reversed -- unless policymakers move immediately to free-up more mobile spectrum to meet exponentially growing demand.

We've no time to waste. The FCC has warned that unless we act now, spectrum capacity in the U.S. could exceed supply as soon as next year. For Americans, this will mean more than longer downloads and more dropped calls. It will mean missed opportunities, and slower innovation, and slower job growth.

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SOPA, PIPA: Pause and reset

For the leading industry backers of the House and Senate’s online piracy bills, this week must have been reminiscent of a Dean Koontz horror novel. First, the White House issued a blog post expressing grave concerns with both pieces of legislation. Shortly thereafter, several popular Internet websites conducted a temporary ‘blackout’ of their respective websites in protest of the two measures; which inspired a handful of high profile legislators to rather promptly withdraw their support for the legislation. Finally, the week concluded with a not so surprising announcement that any further consideration of the legislation had been indefinitely postponed.
 
On closer inspection, however, the recent political setbacks provide traditional media companies, along with their congressional supporters, with a rare opportunity for a fresh start. An opportunity to craft new legislation that shifts the the traditional role of enforcement as the primary means for protecting music and movies from online infringement, in exchange for embracing a more robust system of licensing that would reduce piracy and guarantee existing and potential online customers with more timely access to entertainment content.

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Anti-piracy battle reveals dysfunctional thinking

So, this last week dealt a few blows to supporters of new anti-piracy legislation. And today, websites around the world, including some biggies, have gone dark in protest of anti-piracy legislation. The guts of SOPA have been eviscerated to the point that Google and others can still profit from piracy; and many legislators and the White House show signs of bowing to public pressure as the contentious election year is upon us and Silicon Valley’s fear campaign has worked its magic -- especially on my fellow Democrats and artists. 

If SOPA and PIPA fail, or fail to pass in substantive form, it will indeed be a shame for American content creators and consumers, but the real shame is what this process reveals about the stagnation of governance in general.

Remember the healthcare circus? Instead of rational discourse about the underlying problems in a system that is clearly broken, we got diversionary scare tactics like “death panels” for the aged. My fellow Democrats and I wondered in frustration how anyone could believe such transparent fear-mongering; but now that the issue is online piracy, it is dismaying to realize that my ideological allies are just as easily sucker-punched as my ideological foes.

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Congress wants to censor you

China has long been a political target for members of Congress -- whether they criticize their government’s trade policies, or the way they regulate free speech. While members of Congress are quick to point fingers at China, they themselves are considering legislation that would do just as the Chinese government does – heavily regulate free speech, and hammer entrepreneurship on the Internet.

The Internet Censorship bills (SOPA & PIPA) currently being debated in Congress could give the government the power to turn off parts of the Internet. If anyone uploads copyrighted material to a site like YouTube or on a blog, the website in question could be punished by being removed from search engine results, banned from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. 

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Obama's choice: Regulator or Innovator

When President Obama walks the center aisle of the House of Representatives and takes the podium from Speaker Boehner on January 25th, he will carry with him a heavy burden. The state of our economy will obviously join him at center stage. Both the companies that create jobs and the Americans who desperately need them will be listening. So will a Congress divided to the point of debilitation.

In this extraordinary challenge lies a singular opportunity presented to every American president—the opportunity to reframe the public debate and to buoy a nation. As is tradition, presidents often look to their predecessors as they take pen to paper for these historic occasions. In recent speeches, President Obama has displayed a fondness for President Theodore Roosevelt and his notion of a “New Nationalism” in which a strong federal government ensures social justice.

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