Google censoring searches in China again

02/08/2018
google-logos

Google has a new logo and updating its image – but under the surface it’s still that pre-2010 half-evil censor

Eight years after Google pulled out of the censored Chinese internet, they’re back.  It’s been reported that the company is working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and allow it to reenter the Chinese market.

Google has engaged in the China-controlled internet space before: but in 2010 it pulled out, citing censorship and hacking as reasons.  It didn’t pull out completely – it still offered a number of apps to Chinese users, including Google Translate and Files Go, and the company has offices in Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai – But the largest of its services – search, email, and the Play app store – are all unavailable in the country.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the Guardian in 2010 that his opposition to enabling censorship was motivated to his being born in Soviet Russia.   “It touches me more than other people having been born in a country that was totalitarian and having seen that for the first few years of my life,” he said as Google exited the Chinese market after 4 years of cooperating with the authorities.

But now they’re back, working on a mobile search app that would block certain search terms and black-listed material.  The app is being designed for Android devices.

According to tech-based news site The Information, Google is also working on a censored news-aggregation app too. The news app would take its lead from popular algorithmically-curated apps such as Bytedance’s Toutiao – released for the Western market as “TopBuzz” – that eschew human editors in favour of personalised, highly viral content.

Patrick Poon, China Researcher at Amnesty International, called Google’s return to censorship “a gross attack on freedom of information and internet freedom.”

In putting profits before human rights, he said, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.

This is important because many computer users will set a search site as their homepage and even find content by entering key-words into the url bar of their browser.  Because of Google’s ubiquity, it is frequently set as default search engine on browsers, meaning that millions of users will find that their experience of the internet is that delivered through the lens of Google.  If that lens is smudged or cracked by censorship, all these users’ internet experience is skewed.  So it is essential to highlight the fact that Google is not the neutral, trustworthy agent that many users think it to be.

GreatFire, an organisation that monitors internet censorship and enables circumvention of the “Great Firewall of China”, said the move “could be the final nail in the Chinese internet freedom coffin” and that “the ensuing crackdown on freedom of speech will be felt around the globe.”

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EVTOL – the tech to deliver air taxis to the city’s skies

16/07/2018
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Rolls-Royce EVTOL air taxi concept, launched at Farnborough Air Show July 2018

People have been dreaming of personal flying vehicles since Icarus flew too close to the sun.  But there have been fundamental problems to the concept of air taxis and flying “cars”: noise, pollution and the need for air strips included.  But now the technology to make the dream possible has arrived: EVTOL.

Electric (or hybrid-electric, or electrically-assisted) Vertical Take-Off/Landing means an air vehicle that has the VTOL characteristics of a helicopter but otherwise flies like a fixed-wing airplane.  The VTOL is possible thanks to swivel-wings or swivel engines that are electrically (or hybrid-electrically) powered.  This helps beat the noise problem of helicopters, the pollution that a high concentration of conventionally-fuelled aircraft would cause, and the urban airstrips that fixed-wing vehicles would need.

For example, let’s look at the EVTOL air taxi concept that Rolls-Royce unveilled earlier today (16 July 2018) at the Farnborough Airshow.  The hybrid aircraft, designed to carry four or five passengers, has an M250 gas turbine which delivers around 500kW of electrical power. This is used to drive six rotors that can provide both lift and propulsion, with the wings tilting forward 90 degrees once sufficient altitude has been reached. Four of the rotors can also fold into the wings, leaving two at the rear to provide thrust at cruising altitude while helping to reduce cabin noise. Top speed is estimated at 250mph and range is predicted to be 500 miles. According to Rolls, an onboard battery will bring additional climb power and will be recharged by the M250 engine.

BlackFly-OPENER-Personal-eVTOL

The Blackfly Personal EVTOL

And this is just four days after Opener announced its single-person EVTOL personal aerial vehicle, Blackfly, hailed as the world’s first ultralight, fixed-wing EVTOL  aircraft.  The BlackFly Opener is amphibious and is primarily designed as a small grassy area hopper. It can travel up to 25 miles at 62 mph in the US, or over 80 mph elsewhere.  And in the US anyone can own and operate a Blackfly – there is no need for formal licensing.  And in the pollution stakes: it uses less energy than an electric car, and produces less noise than do petrol-driven cars.

BlackFly-energy-noise-figures

How the Blackfly stacks up on the noise and energy fronts

Unlike Opener, Rolls-Royce produced a concept rather than an actual aircraft.  Nevertheless they claim that the concept is based upon technology that either already exists or is currently under development. If a viable commercial model emerges, the company believes the vehicle could be in service by the early 2020s.  However there will be a lot of competition in this market: Airbus and Uber have both announced plans, Google’s Kittyhawk is taking orders ; and last year, Dubai staged its first autonomous air taxi trial, and authorities there claim personal air mobility could transform the region over the next five years.

In April 2017 after the first Uber Elevate Summit, Electric VTOL News started a catalogue of EVTOL aircraft – it grew at a rate of about one aircraft per week during the first year, but this has now accelerated to an average rate of two aircraft per week as more aircraft are unveiled and new actors join the sector, and now numbers over a hundred aircraft.

As of June 15, 2018, the site had 45 vectored thrust aircraft listed; 12 lift + cruise configurations24 wingless multicopter aircraft; and 23 Hover Bikes/Personal Flying Devices.

In addition, the website now hosts more than 100 news articles and in-depth stories on eVTOL aircraft and developments.

This is an exciting sector and brings ever closer to reality the dream of personal air vehicles – your very own airplane! So keep an eye on the skies!

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I Hate Hate – the Google Images Results Part 1

13/07/2018

Part One of an occasional series of hateful images.

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Google swears off evil again

11/06/2018

In the wake of employee resignations and protests against their tech being used in military drone strikes, Google has reaffirmed its aspiration “Don’t Be Evil.”

Sundar Pichai, CEO at Google, has released a set of ethical guidelines to govern the company’s use of Artificial Intelligence.  These new rules ban the development and use of their AI for weapons, and for surveillance tools that would violate “internationally accepted norms.”

For nearly 20 years, Google had the mantra “Don’t Be Evil” in its corporate code of conduct.  But it dropped the motto in April or May of this year (2018), which made some commentators (well, me anyway) wonder if Google had decided to actively Be Evil?  This thought was reinforced when a number of employees resigned over the company’s involvement in a controversial military drone pilot program, Project Maven.

But don’t worry!  Google may help US military AIs recognise and classify targets, but it won’t have anything to do with killing those targets that it has labelled as “Bad Guy #1”. But how does the company square this with bidding for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract? (I know, I know… JEDI isn’t a “weapon”. Screw your sophistry and semantics!)  As for refusing to develop “surveillance tools that would violate ‘internationally accepted norms'” – what the hell does that mean anyway?  “Internationally accepted” by whom?  North Korea?  Saudi Arabia?  Syria?  Myanmar?  Can you see the problem here?

So okay, Google isn’t being run by Doctor Evil.  But how many Mini-Me clones are working in Research & Development?

Dr.Evil

Sundar Pichai, CEO at Google. pic from Wikipedia

 
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‘We can intercept your Google and Facebook activity all we want, so screw you!’ says UK government

17/06/2014

The British government has for the first time spelt out why it thinks it has the right to snoop on our Google, Facebook and other internet traffic all it wants.

Charles Farr, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, has made a statement (available here) that claims according to UK law the security services only need to get warrants to snoop on communications from one UK party to another. Traffic to and from services like Google (which includes Gmail) and Facebook are classed as “external communications”, for which no warrants are required.

This is horrendous. The internet is a network of networks, many of which are in other countries. So a large amount of our online activity will be transferred via networks in the USA and other countries even if the activity is practically domestic. If you send an email via Gmail to another UK citizen, the government classes it as an “external communication”. The same will be true of activity on Facebook, Twitter, and a great many other services, even though your intention is to communicate or share with other UK residents. Tempora, the program run by the British snooping agency GCHQ, gathers data and metadata, then shares it with the NSA. This means that practically all our online activities are stored, and can be used in fishing expeditions, even though GCHQ or NSA do not suspect you of any potentially criminal activity. Tempora is a “buffer” which stores internet data for 3 days and metadata for 30 days. GCHQ’s computers sift through all this data, storing anything that is “of interest”, which means that online privacy really is nonexistent. Which is what many of us have assumed for ages (especially after Edward Snowden’s revelations), but now it’s official.

What really exasperates me is that major criminals and terrorists will be taking steps to avoid this already, for example by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The real victims of GCHQ’s activities are us ordinary joes who are not engaged in criminal conspiracies but who want privacy (like people who send letters in sealed envelopes rather than postcards). We could encrypt our communications; but how many of us want to do this? and I’ll bet Tempora looks out for encrypted traffic and logs it as suspect.

The law needs changing. But that’s not going to happen. Why would the government give up these powers? So, I’m going to use my VPN account when I go online, and I advise everyone else to do the same. Tempora’s alarms will be set off by my suspicious activity; but if everyone is doing it GCHQ’s systems will overload. I hope. Remember, GCHQ has supercomputers and massive storage facilities. Big Brother, man! 1984 man!

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How to search the internet 5: advanced operators

13/05/2010

This is part 5 of my guide to searching the internet. Here are links to:

Part 1: History of internet search;
Part 2: How a modern web search site works;
Part 3: How to actually use a modern search engine
Part 4: How to understand the results you get from using a modern web search

I covered basic use of operators in part 3. But the proper use of operators is very important if you want to get the most from a search engine, especially if the search is at all complicated. So I’m going to go into more detail on the subject here. I got much of the info from other sites, especially www.GoogleGuide.com. But I (rather modestly) think that i present the info in a much more readable and usable form.

Okay, here we go. Operators are special uses of certain words or combination of words that mean more to the search engine than the plain use of words as simple search terms. Here’s a quick example, which you may find familiar if you’ve ever learned how to use Google to find mp3 files: Let’s imagine we want to find mp3 files of tracks by the excellent early British punk band The Clash. What we actually find are listings of the contents of directories that contain the mp3 music files. So, we could use Google search terms like this:

intitle:index.of mp3 “the clash” -.html -.htm

Let’s examine that bit by bit. It starts with intitle:index.of. The intitle part tells Google to look in the title of a page for a particular word or phrase. In this instance, the phrase to look for is index.of (which would, incidentally, look for titles that include the string “index.of” and “index of” (ie with a space rather than a period). That’s how Google and most (all?) other modern search engines work. The reason for looking for a page whose title includes the phrase “index of” is that a web page listing the contents of a directory will very likely have a title containing those words. It’s also looking for the word mp3 and the phrase “the clash”. You’ll notice we used quotation marks around “the clash”. This is my personal preference: the band was called The Clash, so I want results that contain that band name. Some people disagree, thinking that cuts out a lot of relevant results. And it’s true that some webmasters may have used the word “clash” in the page title. But I think using the word “clash” would pull up lots of irrelevant results like “Clash of the Titans” and “clash of two cultures”. So I stick with the phrase “the clash”. Whether you go with my suggestion or not is up to you.

The last 2 operators in this search are -html and -htm. You see, we’re looking for a page that lists the contents of a directory. This is not a page that is destined to be viewed by site users – it has more of a “housekeeping” function. And as it isn’t meant to be viewed by general users, it is very unlikely to contain mark-up. We’re not looking for marked-up pages; so we don’t want pages whose titles are suffixed .htm or .html. That operator means the same as the NOT operator.

So, that was just a quick example of how operators are used to help construct a search term. Now let’s have a look at what operators are available to a search engine user:

city1 city2: this will look for info on flights from city 1 to city 2. We don’t use the actual names of the city though, we use the 3-letter airport codes. For instance, the search sfo bos will pull up times and info on flights from San Fransisco; whereas the search san fransisco boston pulls up some flight info but also a lot of unrelated results. You can find the 3-letter codes for airports worldwide here.

Here’s some more stuff about advanced Google search operators (with thanks to GoogleGuide.com):

allinanchor:
If you begin your query with allinanchor: Google restricts results to pages containing all query terms you specify in the anchor text on links to the page. Example: the query allinanchor: best museums birmingham will return only pages in which the anchor text on links to the pages contain the words best, museums and birmingham.

Anchor text is the text on a page that is linked to another web page or a different place on the current page. When you click on anchor text, you will be taken to the page or place on the page to which it is linked. When using allinanchor: in your query, do not include any other search operators. The functionality of allinanchor: is also available through the Advanced Web Search page, under Occurrences.

allintext:
If you start your query with allintext:
Google restricts results to those containing all the query terms you specify in the text of the page. For example, allintext: travel packing list will return only pages in which the words “travel”, “packing” and “list” appear in the test of the page. This functionality can also be obtained through the Advanced Web Search Page, under Occurrences.


How to search the internet 4: Understanding search engine results

12/05/2010

This is the fourth part of my guide on how to search the internet. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here. Part 5, about using “advanced operators” is here.

So you’ve used Google or some other web search engine, following the tips I’ve given you in this little series, and you’ve been confronted with “results” that don’t actually seem to be any help whatsoever. And it’s true, often Google comes across as an incomprehensible joke designed to make you feel bad. But don’t fret: Google (and its kind) really don’t want you to run screaming; they want you to use the results to find what it is you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this may involve having to learn a thing or two about how Google works. It may be scary-looking at first glance, but really Google want you to find their results pages easily to comprehend. They want you to return to Google.com every time you want help in finding what you want. It can be a rather intimidating interface the first time you look at a results page: but it is all pretty simple really. You just need to know how to understanding the reams of info Google throws at you. Hopefully, this 4th part of my guide will make it all seem far easier.

First thing first: very often Google will offer you a list of sponsored results that may give you what you’re looking for; but if you click on a sponsored link you will be putting money in Mr Google’s pocket and chances are that link will be useless. Forget the sponsored links: go for the meat and potatoes in the list of real links.

Look at the search results; very often you will find other kinds of info alongside those results. Stuff like:

Suggested spelling corrections: Google may think you typed in your query incorrectly. If you’re no good at spelling, this can be a life-saver. But if you know damn well you typed your query correctly, forget this option;

Dictionary definitions: Are you actually searching for the word/s you mean to search for? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Think about it. Spelling can be a right tricky operation;

Cached pages: Google carries a huge number of pages that are not currently up to date. Maybe one of those cached pages may contain the info you need. Worth checking if regular searches are turning up sweet F-all;

Similar pages: Often Google won’t find a page that contains the precise info you want, but it has algorithms to turn up similar results. Have a look at them, you’ve nothing to lose really…;

News headlines: A webpage dealing with your query might be hard to find, but it’s often easier for Google to find news stories on related material. And these news stories may well include links to more relevant info. This can save you a bunch of time searching for that little nugget of info that will give you what you want. Remember: news stories are updated frequently, whereas a static page may never be more relevant. Use those options;

Product search: You want to know something about a particular project name. So search for that project name, add a bit of info on what the product can/is meant to do, and see what turns up. This approach works a lot more than you might think;

Translation: So what you want isn’t available in your mother tongue. But it may well be out there for speakers of other languages. Just think: if you are looking for info on a product released by a Portugese company, what makes you think that info will be in English? Search Portugese sites, using Google’s Translation feature or the other translators offered by search services. These translators are often pretty crap; but at least it’ll give you a good idea of what’s what;

Do book searches: Useful info may not yet be available in articles, but books often contain useful stuff. So it can often be a good idea to do a book search;

Cached pages: When a web page is undergoing a lot of changes, clicking on a Google link to a page might take you to the latest version of that page, which may be missing information that was presented some time before. Sometimes, these changes can happen frequently, so a Google link will not take you to the info that the search results first suggested.

Fortunately, Google will often cache an earlier version of the page. So, let’s say a particular page yesterday contained the info you want; but you go to today’s version of the page no longer holds that info. A problem? Not necessarily. Next to the Google link to the updated page will be a link to a [i]cached[/i] version of the page; basically, a version of the page that Google downloaded and cached before the important info was removed. So you click to navigate to the cached page, and you will find the info as it was before it got removed. Google’s system of caching certain pages helps ensure that the history of the web is respected to a certain extent.

If you want to download a version of a page that existed longer ago (several weeks, or months, maybe even years) you can go to [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] at archive.org. This is a project to archive internet sites the way they were in the past, so the current generation’s “now now now” attitude doesn’t drive the history of internet sites into oblivion. [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] doesn’t promise to archive the internet of the past forever; but it is a very useful project that has a multitude of potential uses. Archive.org, like most such projects, is run by volunteers and is always in need of financial support, as well as more practical support such as providing servers. I’d advise anyone who finds such projects very useful to contribute even just a few dollars.

There’s a lot of info on how to understand Google results, and how to configure the way Google works to it gives you the info you want and hopefully protects your privacy, here: http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/. I really advise anyone who’s seriously into using Google as best they can to check out this info. Google really is one of the best resources available online… and it’s free! Let’s make the most of it while we can! Before the goddamn Man tries to take it away from us!

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