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Could the cookie crumble for websites?

Companies with websites and online businesses have been given 12 months to implement a new EU directive that means they will need to ask permission from users to track their history.

Websites use ‘cookies’ to store information that people might want to see again, like usernames that you do not want to retype every time you use a site or a history of your purchases on an online shopping store.

However, as part of a new EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive any websites using cookies will need to provide a way of asking the user if this is OK – meaning more pop-ups and banners interrupting their web experience.

Although, companies are being given a year to implement the change, the obvious effect – if not straight away – is that businesses will have to go to much greater lengths to update visitor data on a regular basis.

Matthew Robins from web-design forum Webreality said: “If a website becomes compliant and seeks to ensure that it complies with this law, it will have to change the way it interacts with its user. For example, if it is using a cookie which allows it to track the behaviour of that user on its website, it will have to ask permission from the user before it sets the cookie on that user’s computer. That will mean some form of interruption of the user experience so something on the screen asking the user to tick a box before they continue.”

In the web world it has prompted concerns that people might move away from European websites in favour of American ones simply to by-pass what could become a constant barrage of banners and pop ups asking for consent.

But web experts are warning against making any rash decisions.

Matthew explained: “Our advice to all of our clients it to take advantage of this 12 month grace period that the regulator has provided to make sure that you don’t disadvantage yourself by becoming compliant too early or by becoming compliant in a way which is not strictly necessary, because the one glimmer of hope in all of this is that the manufacturers of the web browsers, that’s the software we all use to browse the web will change the way that their settings work to make it possible to accept blanket cookies from websites.”

So for now, it seems companies might well be able to have their cookie and eat it too.

(Source: Channelonlinetv)

Skype outage affects users
Servers down, according to Skype reports, affecting users around the world

Published 27th May, 2011 by Penny Jones

Popular online communications tool Skype suffered another crash yesterday which not only affected services but its own website, its second outage in about six months.

Skype posted alerts updating users on its Twitter account.

It said: “Earlier today, a corruption occurred in a small percentage of users’ systems that resulted in some of our community not being able to sign in to Skype. We issued some instructions which would allow you to get back online, but understand that they’re fairly technical, and have been working hard to produce a version of Skype for Windows which fixes this problem automatically.”

Skype was purchased by Microsoft earlier this month for US$8.5bn. Microsoft said it plans to increase access across both company’s product lines to real-time video and voice communications through the purchase.

The problems first occurred about midday GMT on 26 May, and Skype later said it mostly affected accessing Skype through Windows. It said an update would be issued to users tomorrow.

According to reports on the Skype website, the outage was caused by a server outage, or a “short break”.

December’s outage was blamed on overloaded servers that were then hit by a bug.

Skype said at the time this had affected its supernodes, which had to be taken offline – these are the computers that connect millions of user computers and phones around the world that use Skype.

During the December outage Skype said: “Under normal circumstances, there are a large number of supernodes available. Unfortunately, today, many of them were taken offline by a problem affecting some versions of Skype. As Skype relies on being able to maintain contact with supernodes, it may appear offline for some of you.

What are we doing to help? Our engineers are creating new ‘mega-supernodes’ as fast as they can, which should gradually return things to normal. This may take a few hours, and we sincerely apologise for the disruption to your conversations. Some features, like group video calling, may take longer to return to normal.”

(Sources: DatacentreDynamics, and MemeGenerator)

This article is about how people in Syria which could face civil war any moment make use of the Internet, despite threats. While it is quite difficult to find positivity in this whole matter, something small still helps.

Citizen journalism has been criticised at times for its inaccuracy, fear mongering, and biased opinions. However, in this case, I’m inclined to believe in the bravery of the Syrian people who forge on and feel a duty to report on events that are tearing their country apart.

While it can be said that the citizens who do that could be blogging out of self-interest (e.g. to get help for themselves, to stir trouble, etc), I’m sure that there are also those who just want to give their country a voice. History has unfortunately shown that countries in need sometimes get overlooked in the wake of newer issues, so I suppose this is also a way of ensuring that Syria is not forgotten.

These few phrases I feel, have described perfectly the situation:

Yet despite all safety concerns, thousands of Syrians citizens today have found a voice.

“A major role citizen journalism is playing is that it is magnifying the dispossession and despair of those who cannot speak,” said sociologist Samir Khalaf, professor at the American University of Beirut.

“Who is going to speak on behalf of those who are bereft of speech? This is where citizen journalism comes in… in an uprising that is all about citizenship.”

(Source: Middle East Online)

Saw this article which struck me as amusing at first, then provoked a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, as one of the world’s most censored country, China organising a large-scale online activity made me look twice at the headlines. The basic principle of the Internet is a sphere whereby information is freely exchanged. This article made me wonder if China, as one of the rising global powers, has enough clout and determination to re-make the Internet, Chinese stye.

Secondly, it gives rise to another question: Is China loosening up its strict policies and taking a more ‘Westernised’ approach towards the Internet (and dare I mention, freedom of speech)?

While the Internet is a bane and boon for netizens and people/organisations/governments with reason for hiding certain information respectively, it cannot be denied that the strength of the World Wide Web lies in its ability to disseminate data.

As noted in the article, the various Chinese websites participating in the online activities are pro-Communist Party. Hence, so far it appears that the degree China is willing to go only extends to news organisations which are sure to support its views.

However, as some optimists are wrought to believe, China is finally opening up.

What do people think? (:

(Source: People’s Daily Online)

In the lecture this week (Week 5), the topic of online privacy came up. According to the lecture as well as the readings, information is even more easily available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection than ever (Solove, 2007). The benefits are obvious. As Solove says in his book, “We can communicate and share ideas in unprecedented ways. These developments are revolutionizing our self-expression and freedom” (Solove, 2007). With the Internet, people can quickly search for information regarding for example, a certain company (whether it is credible), a certain person offering a product or service (how do other purchasers rate the product/service), or even look up long-lost friends or family members via various avenues like blogs. One of the most commonly utilised approach is online social networking sites like Facebook.

Consider the example of China which had 457 million Internet users at the end of 2010, compared to only 308 million in USA (Bryan, 2011). This number according to a 2009 report by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) is only 29% of the total Chinese population, which means that numbers of Internet users will be expected to steadily rise at an exponential rate (CNNIC, 2009). According to Shankar, the Internet in China has helped 46 million people with their education, 35 million with security purposes, 15 million with job hunting and 14 million with travel plans (Shankar, 2010). The Internet has also resulted in the birth of informant websites set up by the governement for citizens to report corruption (Shankar, 2010).

This has also facilitated the rise of citizen watchdogs, or ‘flesh searches’. Netizens on popular BBS forums (Bulletin Board Systems) and social networking websites have all conducted searches for people (and their personal details) who have become popular on the Internet for whatever reasons. Examples range from corrupt/badly behaving government officials who are not punished for their misdeeds, mysterious people acting strangely in public, controversial blog posts, and so on. Upon finding the person’s personal details which include full name, address, and contact numbers, depending on the person’s behaviour, netizens in the area would proceed to either praise or harass the person in the spotlight. While this practice has had good results (e.g. the government pressured into taking appropriate actions against its offending staff member), netizens who reveal the wrong information i.e. personal details of an innocent person can cause much trouble for the person targeted.

However, as illustrated in the examples above, there are downfalls to this ease of information gathering. For one, a great amount of digital paper trail is generated. Personal information, generated information, and even false information will be preserved forever on the Internet, and is easily accessed at the click of a mouse.

This brings us to the relatively new phenomenon of employers Googling prospective job applicants. The practice of making use of the Internet to screen potential employees ensure the company that the person they are considering is suitable for the job and the corporate image portrayed by the firm. Conversely, many job hunters also make use of the Internet to find out more about a firm with 60% using social media to find out the company culture. As the two articles attached show, the vast amount of information out there can be a double-edged sword.

Employees using Social Media from TODAYOnline:

SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE ROLE IT PLAYS WHEN LOOKING FOR A JOB

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SINGAPORE – A survey by recruitment firm, Randstad, has found that social media plays an influential role in the workplace and job search environment.

According to the Randstad Workmonitor, when preparing for an interview, 56 per cent of employees would use social media to find out more about an employer.

Some 60 per cent would use social media to find out more about a potential employer’s working culture from comments made by employees, and more than half (60 per cent) would not apply to an organisation if negative things were being said about the employer on social media.

When asked if employees take into account that their personal profiles can be viewed by their employers, 67 per cent said yes.

About half (48 per cent) said their employers provided guidelines for using social media representation with regard to work-related content and engagement.

Randstad regional director, Singapore and Malaysia, Ms Karin Clarke, said it is not surprising that employers are proactively providing their staff with social media guidelines, as social media is a double-edged sword for organisations.

While it provides an opportunity to attract quality candidates, sensitive and negative content can go viral very quickly and out of an organisation’s control, potentially causing serious harm to a company’s reputation.

The Randstad Global Workmonitor also revealed that Singapore was in the bottom three of Asia-Pacific countries surveyed when it came to employee satisfaction.

Employees in China and Japan are the least satisfied. The most satisfied employees in Asia Pacific are in India, (80 per cent), New Zealand (68 per cent) and Australia (67 per cent).

Employers using Social Media: 2011 article on the San Diego Union-Tribune

Schools are now also adopting this practice of checking up on hopeful candidates for acceptance. While the reason for rejecting some applicants is due to their Facebook accounts, schools are saying that the lack of knowledge about privacy settings, not so much the unbefitting behaviour and lives of these applicants is the real rationale for the students’ rejection. In the case of one American student, his Facebook profile was open to the public which led to discovery of a note he posted with threatening overtones. This mistake cost him his graduation, from which he was only a month away from.

Pam Procter a college admissions expert advises, “”Get rid of any photos, messages, pagers or ‘Likes’ that may reflect badly on you,”.

As quoted in the article, students hoping to enter disciplines such as business, law or medicine need to make sure that their online social profiles are presented in the best possible light. “According to Schools.com, 9 percent of business schools, 15 percent of law schools and 14 percent of medical schools admission officers reported looking at applicants’ social media profiles during the application process” (Lenz, 2011).

Examples of students being subjected to disciplinary action, or even expulsion have been as common as employees being fired over careless blog posts or online social media content. With cases like employees being fired because his or her employers saw disparaging comments about the company or management on personal blogs or Facebook accounts, to students being expelled for inappropriate behaviour, the danger of the Internet is that “in this day and age, there’s no privacy” (Solove, 2007).

What struck me about this lecture and all the cases outlined is that I am leaving a trail of information about myself, accessible to anyone, anytime and I can’t do anything about it without being equipped with more than the rudimentary computing skills I possess.

The idea of someone who can commit identity theft, the first case that comes to mind so easily makes me think twice about revealing information, however basic it might be online.

The second worrying thing is that my future schools or employers can pull up information about me in an instant, and the information that they pull up could be from anytime in my life. While searches would most likely turn up the most recent news about me i.e. when I’ve gotten my act together and started being responsible, data that I could have foolishly posted online when I was young and stupid would most likely also come up. The problem I face is being unable to remember every single thing I did on the Internet from a decade ago when I first started using this marvelous, but frightening invention.

Thirdly, the faint (in my case) possibility that someone would make use of my information or wrongly accuse me of some wrongdoing and disseminate my personal information all over the World Wide Web is a daunting thought. What’s been sent out can never be taken back, as some people have found out (mixing private correspondance with corporate ones and sending personal messages out to the whole department, or even the region, in the case of one Singapore Health Promotion Board staffer sending an explicit tweet to all and sundry following the governmental institution’s Twitter feed).

Critics of the Internet have said that it promotes excessive narcissism and frivolous discussions, while supporters argue that freedom of speech allows whoever to do whatever, and if endless self-promotion and adoration is what rocks your boat, so be it. I suppose the lure of posting information about yourself, every moment of your day, personal experiences, rants, and so on is very strong. Having people whom you know as well as don’t know seeing your ‘works’, empathising with you, and commenting on your posts seems to be very attractive, and in a way, increases your importance in the world. However, being a media student (and knowing very well of how fast information can be spread), attending net communications, and also being an all-round paranoid person, I am really more inclined to take the former side. Everything personal will be made private, no matter how barren my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and god knows what else is.

Hence, while the Internet is certainly a boon to everyone who can access it, it remains a bane as well.

References

Bryan, W. 2011, ‘Chinese Internet Use Surges Past 450 Million People In 2010’, National Public Radio, viewed 22 April 2011.

CCNIC. 2009, ‘Translation of The 23rd CNNIC Report – Statistical Survey Report on Internet Development in China’, CCNIC, viewed 22 April 2011.

Chinapet. 2011, ‘. . . . . Xidan girls event. . . . Recent hot hot’, viewed 22 April 2011.

Hopwood, R. 2011, ‘Using online connections to find jobs, workers’, The San Diego Union-Tribune: Technology and Telecom, viewed 22 April 2011.

Lenz, S. 2011, ‘Students applying to college may want to check out their Facebook page first’, Deseret News, viewed 22 April 2011.

Matyszczyk, C. 2011. ‘Facebook placenta pose gets student expelled’, CNET, viewed 22 April 2011.

Netease. 2011, ‘Topic: Men’s 11-year-old girl claiming to be obscene, “the senior officials to Beijing” (video)’, Netease, viewed 22 April 2011.

Sarrio, J. 2010, ‘Tennessee teen expelled for Facebook posting’, USA Today, viewed 22 April 2011.

Shankar, B. 2010, ‘Key facts about China’s internet usage’, International Business Times, viewed 22 April 2011.

Solove, DJ. 2007, ‘How the Free Flow of information Liberates and Constrains Us’, Future of Reputation: Gossips, Rumour, and Privacy on the Internet, New Haven: Yale University Press, New York, USA. pp. 17 – 49.

Tianya. 2011, ‘『End of the World Zatan 』is black on the the” Zhejiang University Women, “rave-known professor of Zhejiang University”‘, viewed 22 April 2011.

The Boston Channel. 2011, ‘Work Talk On Facebook Might Get You Fired: Employees Can Complain About Workplace, Within Limits’, The Boston Channel, viewed 22 April 2011.

TODAYOnline. 2011.


Saw this article in The Herald Sun today about Snoop Dog’s new album, Doggumentary being put up on MySpace. I thought it’s interesting that yet another artiste has jumped on the bandwagon and made his music available for listening online. Though the album is not downloadable for free and is not purchasable in its entirety online, it’s still a step towards the future of digital music!

References

Herald Sun. 2011, ‘Snoop Dogg releases new tracks on MySpace’, viewed 29 March 2011.

MySpace.com. 2011, ‘Doggumentary ExplicitDoggumentary by Snoop Dogg’, viewed 29 March 2011.

News

Posted on: March 25, 2011

Some interesting pieces of news which relates to the material covered by Net Communications so far. The second article about Google’s Internet library plans being thwarted strikes me as coincidental, seeing how I’ve just posted here on copyright issues.

INTERNET BROWSER BATTLE HEATS-UP

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NEW YORK – Mozilla released the latest version of its free and open source Web browser Firefox to the public on Tuesday.

The new browser was downloaded nearly 3 million times only hours after it was made available online – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9, in contrast, was downloaded 2.35 million times within its first 24 hours last week.

But Firefox 4’s time in the limelight was quickly cut short by Google’s announcement yesterday that they have introduced support for the HTML5 speech input API (application programming interface) in their Chrome browsers, effective immediately. In simple terms, that means you will be able to talk to your browser.

The API opens up a slew of possibilities. Web developers, for instance, will now be able to incorporate speech-to-text transcription in their apps, allowing users to upload speech, via a microphone, to a transcription server and having it show up as text within the app.

Google’s announcement overshadowed earlier news about Firefox 4’s improvements, including increased privacy features – one security upgrade, “Do Not Track”, will allow “users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking”, Mozilla said.

The new Firefox also promotes interactive capabilities with HTML5.

(Agencies)

COPYRIGHT ISSUES TOPPLE GOOGLE’S DIGITAL LIBRARY, BOOKSTORE PLANS

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by The New York Times

NEW YORK – Google’s ambition to create the world’s largest digital library and bookstore has run into the reality of a 300-year-old legal concept: Copyright.

The company’s plan to digitise every book published and make them widely available was derailed on Tuesday, when a United States federal judge in New York rejected a sweeping US$125 million (S$158.1 million) legal settlement the company had worked out with groups representing authors and publishers.

The decision throws into legal limbo one of the most ambitious undertakings in Google’s history and it brings into sharp focus concerns about the company’s growing power over information.

While the profit potential of the book project is not clear, the effort is one of the pet projects of Mr Larry Page, the Google co-founder who is set to become its chief executive next month. And the project has wide support inside the company, whose corporate mission is to organise all of the world’s information.

But citing copyright, anti-trust and other concerns, Judge Denny Chin said that the settlement went too far. He said it would have granted Google a “de facto monopoly” and the right to profit from books without the permission of copyright owners.

Judge Chin acknowledged that “the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many” but said that the proposed agreement was “not fair, adequate and reasonable”. He left open the possibility that a substantially revised agreement could pass legal muster.

The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers sued Google in 2005 over its book-scanning project. After two years of painstaking negotiations, the authors, publishers and Google signed a sweeping settlement that turned three parties into allies instead of opponents and would have brought millions of printed works into the digital age.

It would have given authors and publishers new ways to earn money from digital copies of their works.

Among the most persistent objections to the deal, raised by the Justice Department and others, was that no other company would be able to build a comparable library, leaving Google free to charge high prices for its collection, and that the deal would cement the company’s grip on the Internet search market.

Source: TodayOnline