Head to the stores to look for real, physical DVDs and Blu-rays, and you'll probably find that there's an age rating on them. Now plans are afoot to bring the same idea to the web. As insane an idea as this may sound, this is actually happening, and it is completely pointless and unworkable. Initially starting off with the involvement of YouTube and Vevo, the scheme is the brainchild of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and will start as a pilot program in October. It's something that is likely to appeal to concerned parents, but the practicalities are a rather different matter.
Announcing the ratings plan, Cameron said: "We shouldn't cede the internet as some sort of lawless space where the normal rules of life shouldn't apply. So, in as far as it is possible, we should try to make sure that the rules that exist offline exist online. So if you want to go and buy a music video offline there are age restrictions on it. We should try and recreate that system on the internet".
A few weeks ago I complained bitterly about my atrocious internet connection. The impact of a deathly slow and unnervingly unstable connection is hard to overstate. Tension and frustration chez Wilson reached boiling point. Nerves were frayed and tempers short. But as I sank into the bleak, hellish broadband abyss, a hand reached out to save me. The hand was extended by the suitably named Satellite Internet who took pity on me having read of my plight. A trial of satellite broadband was duly offered, and I don’t think I could have said "yes, please" faster. It's something I've considered before, but the startup costs had put me off.
Satellite Internet's service uses Astra satellites, the same ones used to deliver satellite TV to Europe. This means that a smaller dish than you might expect is needed. Forget the monster installations you may have seen in people's gardens in years gone by, these days the dishes have shrunk to something that's just about the same size as those used for TV broadcasts. Installation was delayed due to my trip to the Isle of Skye (which, incidentally, has blisteringly fast internet considering it's a tiny island connected to the mainland with a small bridge), but this morning two installation engineers arrived at 8:00, having travelled more than two hours to reach me.
The issue of internet freedom is seldom far from the news at the moment, but exactly how much are the governments in different countries restricting what their web users do?
Online privacy service IVPN has produced an interactive map showing levels of internet censorship around the world. You can simply click on a country to see how it rates.
You never know when the next Twitter is going to crop up. When a new service like Pinterest, Vine, or Skype appears, if you're not quick off the mark there's a high chance you'll miss out on your preferred username. You want MarkWilsonWords? Sorry, that went ages ago… you'll have to settle for MarkWilsonWord09868. Getting stuck with a crappy username sucks, but it's very hard to monitor all of the new services that pop up so you can bag your ideal name as early as possible. This is something that EarlyClaim can help with.
It's a free service that seeks out new startups and reserves a username on your behalf -- you just say what handle you'd like, and EarlyClaim does the hard work for you. For businesses, it is important to have a brand identity that is the same across different social networks (who is going to take notice of Coca Cola 1897 on Facebook?) but it's also something that is valuable to individuals. How many times have you signed up for a site only to find that you're unable to secure the username of your choice and had to opt for something far inferior? Every time you use that service there is a constant reminder that you weren't fast enough at signing up.
We expect, and are expected, to be contactable at any given moment -- and indeed we often expect the same of others. Send a text, and you expect a response. Pen an email, and you expect to receive one in return, and fast. Hit up someone on Google chat and an all-but-instant reply is all but expected. Maybe this doesn’t sound like you, but I can guarantee that you fit on the spectrum, and also that the people you are in contact with make the same demands of you. When did this change? It used to be that you'd call a landline number and if you didn’t get a reply you might just try again a few hours later. The fact that we now carry mobiles with us virtually 24/7 means that it is weird if someone doesn't answer the call.
They can’t be busy! Try again! Still no reply? Send a text. And an email. And an IM. If it was limited to office hours, it might be understandable -- and bearable -- to some extent, but there has been a massive slip in end-times. It is acceptable to send emails to someone at any time of day. You may have woken up at 3 in the morning and thought of something relating to work, or even just something that made you laugh, and felt the need to share it immediately. The recipient, in all likelihood, will be alerted to this email on a smartphone or tablet if they don’t happen to be sitting at their computer. At 3 in the morning, it might not wake them up, but at, say, 8pm how likely is it that the email will be ignored? The recipient's working day just got extended by several hours.
The scanning of personal emails is almost universally regarded as a terrible thing. Just like the activities of the NSA, when email providers start rifling through private information, it has a tendency to upset people. The justification for governmental mass surveillance has always been that it helps to combat crime -- and of course we never have to wait for long before the words "terrorists", "extremists", and "attack" are used. Google has just demonstrated how email scanning can be used to catch criminals. In this case, Google's image recognition software was used to identify images of child abuse sent via email by a Texan man.
A 41 year old man was arrested after the system detected suspicious material. The police were alerted and requested the user's details from Google after child protection services were automatically notified of the findings. The convicted sex offender's account triggered an alert after automatic, pro-active scans detected illegal pictures and Google then reported it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Google is understandably tight-lipped about how its technology works, but as the Telegraph points out, we do already know a little about the methods used.
There was widespread condemnation of Facebook when it was revealed that the social network had been manipulating users' newsfeeds as part of a social experiment. Official complaints may have been made but it doesn’t seem to have served as a lesson for other websites. Now it transpires that OkCupid -- the dating website whose slogan is "We use math to get you dates" -- has been fiddling the figures in a series of experiments on its users. The weird thing is, the site is openly bragging about it.
In a blog post unashamedly titled "We Experiment On Human Beings!", founder Christian Rudder writes that "OkCupid doesn’t really know what it’s doing". Seems like something of an odd admission. The blog post details three experiments the dating site conducted on its subscribers. There must have been more because the post is prefaced with the words "Here are a few of the more interesting experiments OkCupid has run". Does "interesting" just mean "less controversial"? Who knows?
The inspiration for this weekend's whine, along with the reason for its slight delay are one and the same thing. An appallingly slow (often non-existent) internet connection. Well, actually it's a combination of things, a slow internet connection being just one of them. Most people -- myself included in the past -- don't give a second thought to living online. Web pages are there ready be accessed on demand. Movies are just waiting to stream. Facebook and Twitter posts stream by. And so on. At least that's how it should be. If you live out in the sticks, it's a very different story -- and it stops me from banging about Edward Snowden and the NSA.
Look at the headlines and you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the "developed world" is working with a blisteringly fast connection. Forget cables, we just have our brains connected directly to the internet. But we don’t. Here in the UK, there is a very noticeable digital divide, and I know it's a similar story in many other parts of the world. I've been fairly lucky in the past. Moving house at the turn of the millennium happily coincided with the arrival of broadband in the area. Hooray! 4Mbps of downstream -- more than acceptable nearly 15 years ago. A house move later, and things jumped to 8Mbps.
Back in May, the EU Court of Justice ruled that people have a "right to be forgotten" from search results. Google fairly quickly set up an online form to allow complainants to put forward their case for censoring their appearance in results. It didn’t take long for Microsoft to follow suit, and Bing users were soon afforded the same option.
Forget.me was one service that offered to take care of Google removal requests for people, and at the time CEO Bertrand Girin promised that "if Bing and Yahoo get their Right to be Forgotten forms in order, we’ll be able to provide you with the possibility of submitting your URL to all three search engines at the same time." For Microsoft, that day has come.
Online security and privacy are hotter topics than ever. Just this weekend, Edward Snowden made an appearance at the Hope X 2014 hacker event, and called for those in attendance to help make encryption tools easier to use. Another fierce advocate of online privacy is the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), and today the group released a beta version of Privacy Badger, a beautifully named extension for Chrome and Firefox designed to stop a number of tracking techniques used online. The idea of tracking cookies is something that will be familiar to most, but tracking takes many forms, including advertising and social media. Privacy Badger aims to block this tracking.
Peter Eckersley, EFF Technology Projects Director, said: "Widgets that say 'Like this page on Facebook' or 'Tweet this' often allow those companies to see what webpages you are visiting, even if you never click the widget's button. The Privacy Badger alpha would detect that, and block those widgets outright. But now Privacy Badger's beta version has gotten smarter: it can block the tracking while still giving you the option to see and click on those buttons if you so choose".
The official Twitter app may be good enough for casual Windows Phone use, but only a third-party client has all the right features for the social network's power users. While there already are a couple of good picks available in Store, the arrival of Tweetium, best known as one of the most fully-featured Twitter clients for Windows 8.x, just beefed-up the selection.
The developer, B-side Software, has released Tweetium as a beta. It is meant to be tested just by "select" existing "customers", according to its Store description, but we can still take a look.
If you live in Europe and don't like the fact that Binging yourself throws up results you'd rather didn’t appear, Microsoft has created a form you can use to request removal of these links from searches. (Yeah, ok…Bing doesn't really work as a verb in the same way as Google. Lesson learned.) Not all that long ago, Google was forced to consider censoring search results that people considered to be out of date, incorrect or irrelevant -- it's a ruling that has been dubbed the right to be forgotten. A form was set up to make it easier for people with complaints to get in touch, and now Microsoft has followed suit and created a Request to Block Bing Search Results In Europe form.
Filling in the form is absolutely no guarantee that a search result will be removed -- and it is important to remember that this is only about removing links from search results, not removing actual content. Or, as Microsoft puts it in the form:
Google is no stranger to upsetting people, and it certainly managed to do this back when Google+ launched three years ago. The social network that finds itself the butt of many jokes has long been criticized for forcing users to reveal their real names. But this policy is no more.
As well as reversing the real name requirement, Google has also apologized for the restrictions that have been in place over the past three years. The change of heart was announced, of course, in a Google+ post, and has been welcomed by the + community.
It's a little while since a European Court of Justice ruling forced Google to start removing search links to certain articles. Dubbed the "right to be forgotten", the ruling led Google to create an online form making it easier for people to get in touch about search results relating to them thought to be "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant". But just like those requests from celebrities to stop publishing compromising images online, it seems like asking for search links to be censored serves only to highlight the existence of the web pages they correspond to.
The court's decision that people should be able to request that information about them be removed from Google searches came after Spaniard Mr Costeja González took exception to links to stories about a series of old debts he had. There are now few people who follow news about Google who are not aware that Mr González has a less than perfect credit history. It's not clear whether he regards the ruling as a personal victory, but the appearance of Hidden From Google is sure to ruffle the feathers of many who have submitted similar removal requests to the search giant.
Windows Phone developers should be commended for the great job they are doing with third-party apps, which are, sometimes, even superior to the real deal. But, while they cover quite a few popular services, like Dropbox, Gmail or YouTube, I have yet to come across a competent client for Google+. For some reason, all Windows Phone apps I have tried either did not work as advertised or were acting as a wrapper for the mobile site.
As a result I have stopped trying to use Google+ altogether on Windows Phone, switching over to my laptop or tablet whenever I want to reach followers on the social network. But, thanks to G.T.F.O. Productions and its gPlus app, that might change.