In an open letter to President Obama and Congress, eight of the most prominent U.S. tech companies have demanded that strict new limits be put on government surveillance, citing revelations made earlier this summer, when stories based Edward Snowden’s leaked documents began running in The Guardian. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual,” they argue, “rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”
They’ve staked out an extraordinary position.
Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and AOL all have an interest in restoring public trust in their products and averting new regulatory challenges in countries disinclined to let a spying hegemon control the Internet. My colleague James Fallows has written eloquently about the damage the NSA’s behavior could do to U.S. economic might as other countries react to it. The companies could’ve made a compelling case for reform on those grounds alone.
Instead, they’ve gone quite a bit farther.
Read more. [Image: Jason Lee/Reuters]
In the latest installment of its semi-annual report, and the first since the Edward Snowden revelations, Google puts an emphasis on the project’s limits.Read more. [Image: Google]
Google’s Motorola division makes phones. People make calls on those phones. And now that mobile has eaten the world, they often reach out to business associates and loved ones in noisy situations like “large stadiums, busy streets, restaurants, and emergency situations.” Which makes it harder to communicate.
Thankfully, then, Google has patented a new possible solution to the age old problem of talking with each in loud places: “Communication can be reasonably improved” by the application of an electronic throat tattoo, which could dampen “acoustic noise.”
Sounds reasonable! Just look at the guy in the patent drawing. He’s happy! Who wouldn’t want a neck tattoo that provides “auxillary voice input to a mobile communication device”?
Read more. [Image: USPTO]
Which is not quite a floating data center for the dystopian future we hoped it would be.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Installing a computer in your arm, patent attacks on Google, what killed you in 1912, Obamacare’s winners, and the day’s hottest IPO.
It’s been nearly three years since Google rolled out its Ngram Viewer, allowing armchair historians to plot the trajectories of words and phrases over time based on an enormous corpus of data extracted from the Google Books digitization project. Since then, there have been numerous studies seeking to glean some cultural significance from the graphs of falling and rising word usage. And the graphs themselves have inspired imitators: Recently, the engineering team behind Rap Genius introduced Ngram-style graphing of historical word frequency in rap lyrics, and, more bizarrely, New York Times wedding announcements. (You can even compare the hiphop and matrimonial datasets.)
As the Ngram model extends its influence, Google continues to tinker, making improvements to the Ngram Viewer’s already slick interface. Last year saw a major upgrade, with a sizable increase in the underlying data spanning English and seven other languages, as well as the introduction of part-of-speech tagging and mathematical operators that allowed for more sophisticated searches. Today, meet Ngram Viewer 3.0. While the corpus itself hasn’t expanded in this version, the search features have become even more useful, especially now that wildcards are in the mix.
Last week, another distasteful use of your personal information by Google came to light: The company plans to attach your name and likeness to advertisements delivered across its products without your permission.
As happens every time the search giant does something unseemly, Google’s plan to turn its users into unwitting endorsers has inspired a new round of jabs at Google’s famous slogan “Don’t be evil.” While Google has deemphasized the motto over time, it remains prominent in the company’s corporate code of conduct, and, as a cornerstone of its 2004 Founder’s IPO Letter, the motto has become an inescapable component of the company’s legacy.
Famous though the slogan might be, its meaning has never been clear. In the 2004 IPO letter, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin clarify that Google will be “a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.” But what counts as “good things,” and who constitutes “the world?” The slogan’s significance has likely changed over time, but today it seems clear that we’re misunderstanding what “evil” means to the company. For today’s Google, evil isn’t tied to malevolence or moral corruption, the customary senses of the term. Rather, it’s better to understand Google’s sense of evil as the disruption of its brand of (computational) progress.
Before Roni Zeiger founded Smart Patients, an online community where patients can crowdsource medical information, he was a full-time doctor. Because of that, he can empathize with doctors who complain about patients who think they can diagnose their symptoms using the Internet.
“Maybe 10 years ago we were in a cultural state, as far as physicians were concerned, where I might say to you in a doctor’s room, ‘Oh shit, this patient just came in with twelve pages of print-outs that he found on Google and Web MD, and he thinks he’s got pellagra.’ I think we’re almost over that,” he said during an interview at The Atlantic Meets the Pacific on Wednesday.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]