Year in review: Shh (privacy) and bleep (censorship)

In 2010, GMSV often stood at the intersection of Tech and Policy. Our nominees for tech word of the year include iPad and Android, but in our mental tag cloud, privacy and censorship scream out in huge, bold letters.

Privacy: To some, privacy in the age of Facebook and Google, GPS and LBS may seem like a lost cause. Google’s SpyFi troubles, in which the company’s Street View vehicles were discovered to be (inadvertently, the company says) picking up data over unsecured wireless networks, was one glaring example of privacy risks vs. convenience. After all, many of us consider Google’s many (free) offerings, such as Street View and Maps, excellent resources. Some of us allow ourselves to be tracked via our mobile phones so we can get driving directions. There are inherent tradeoffs for the kind of services and features we find useful.

But does that mean we should be resigned to the fact that most anything we do nowadays can be tracked? Some might be, but there are still many of us who would like to be given a choice, for example, about which company we don’t mind receiving solicitations from, and which ones we would like to avoid no matter how much money we could save. For example, a recently filed lawsuit against Apple says applications are sending users’ personal information to ad networks without permission. Sound familiar? We mentioned in today’s post about Facebook that the social networking company was found to be doing the same. (Also, see The privacy strikes, they just keep coming: Google, RapLeaf, MySpace and more.)

The U.S. government has a couple of proposals in the works that attempt to make sense of the issue and provide standards for companies to follow. (See From Uncle Sam, frameworked online privacy.) Companies such as Facebook and Google say they are being transparent and cooperative. But the complexities involved, the number of players and conflicting interests, and the fast pace of technological innovation almost certainly mean there will be no one answer that will satisfy everybody.

Censorship: From to Apple to WikiLeaks, craigslist to China to India, censorship questions popped up early and often in 2010. pulled a couple of books (subjects: pedophilia, WikiLeaks) off its virtual shelves. It also kicked WikiLeaks off its servers, which some view as a censorship issue, although the company says it had to do with the whistleblower website’s violations of its terms of service. Apple, proud of its right to keep whatever it wants out of its walled garden, pulled an app that it deemed anti-gay and anti-abortion. Oh, and a WikiLeaks app, too. (See Amazon and Apple, they have pull.) Google and China duked it out for a while over censorship in that nation. (See Year in review: Fighting words, patent wars and more.) Craigslist gave in to incessant pressure and stopped hosting adult-services ads, which critics said were a magnet for prostitution and child-trafficking. (See Craigslist defiant till the end.) BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has fought, and continues to deal with, governments such as India’s, which are demanding access to customers’ messages on its encrypted networks in the name of national security.

WikiLeaks, whose complicated, multi-faceted story — its leader Julian Assange, for example, is controversial and polarizing — is still being written, seems to be running out of options in terms of companies that will do business with it. Because the stateless website that has released classified U.S. government information has effectively become an enemy of the state, companies are wary of it. So while on the one hand, the Internet is starting to help decentralize power, as laid out by Chris O’Brien of the Mercury News, on the other hand we’re seeing the banding together of corporations and government. That’s a government, by the way, whose stated commitment to and support for freedom of information has proved to be nothing more than empty rhetoric. From a Jan. 21 speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “Technologies with the potential to open up access to government and promote transparency can also be hijacked by governments to crush dissent and deny human rights.” Now the government is exploring how to go after WikiLeaks. And telling its military not to read leaked classified information on the New York Times and other websites.


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  • MRK

    Yes they do censor. My review (below) has been in their web site for over 1 year. I removed it to make grammar corrections and when tried to published it was labeled “racist”! Yet, I never had nor will ever have a racist bone in my body! I’d be curious for your take.

    “The first time I watched Gone with the Wind was with my mother, who had watched it while still very young too. So I was eager to finally read the book. Alas: it is full of political propaganda! The book is a repetition (ad nauseam!) of attacks to Republicans.

    This book remains safely protected under the cover of a Pulitzer Prize, otherwise its raving racism would have been denounced. Any conservative who had dared to write a book referring to blacks as Mrs. Mitchell did, would have been torn to shreds by the Politically Correct crowd. Throughout the book Scarlet laments that her “too dear a homeland” was being “turned over to ignorant Negroes drunk with whisky and freedom.” The Yankees are just plain mean, because they were “talking about letting the darkies vote.” The Confederates couldn’t conceive the possibility of “having nigger judges, nigger legislators–black apes out of the jungle”! And–crime of crimes!–the Yankees also believed “niggers had a right to…to…white women”! In her book the only good blacks were the ones who stayed with their white Southern owners–you know, the ones who knew their place! Scarlet feels toward blacks the same way modern Democrats do: they are minors, ignoramuses who can’t possibly survive without help by the white man! I hoped she would change her mindset and see the light; but Mitchell never takes the time to enlighten her character: Scarlet goes on with the same condescending attitude. If Mitchell wanted to impart the view that whites and blacks are equal—which was supposedly the view she espoused—she failed monstrously through the book! If her book gets readings at the Margaret Mitchell’s Museum in Atlanta, I am sure only very well selected parts are read out loud!

    Pages and more pages drip with paradoxical rant. The Klan, obviously, was only created out of the concern of the good Southern whites, to deal with “insolent negroes” who were turning fond eyes on white women; the same negroes Mitchell also describes as trusted, faithful, and loyal… Well, except for the farm hands, of course, who were actually lazy ignorant children–you know, the ones who abandoned the plantations in a quest for the Liberty the nasty Yanks bestowed upon them! Interestingly, in the book, blacks would get highly offended if called “nigger” by whites; and unlike nowadays, when a black called another black a “nigger,” it was also meant as an insult!

    Yankees are shown as dreading blacks and regarding them as mere brutes. Yet, History tells us of slaves been snatched through the North from the Southern plantations and sent to Canada by these same unfeeling, heartless Yankees… Where I live (near Lake Erie) you can still visit the houses that served as safe havens for slaves running away from their loving owners in the South—it is called the “Underground Railroad.” I’m sure these running blacks just misunderstood the good intentions of their owners down in the South…

    If published today, I have no doubt this book would have caused riots bigger than the LA ones.”