February 10, 2006
Total Information Awareness on the Comeback Trail
Of course, that's not what it's called. Anymore. The vast data mining attempt by the government was killed by Congress in 2003 after the project leaked to the press. Something about privacy concerns apparently piqued congress into acting against it.
Now, some three years later we find a report in the Christian Science Monitor about ADVISE, Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement. The program received $50 million in funding within the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of ADVISE is to use data mining to foil terrorism. It does it by linking transactional information such as blog postings (anyone listening to this?) and email to other information held in government databases. So says the CSM at least. The government isn't talking, and when it does it seems to cough a lot.
Here's a quote from the story that sets out the scope of the project, and it's truly staggering:
What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.
A quadrillion, by the way, is one thousand trillion, or a thousand million million, or 10 to the 15th power. According the the U.S. Census, there are 298,081,786 Americans and 6,496,915,442 total humans on the planet.
Critics of the system note that there are no privacy safeguards in the data mining system, or at least none in public awareness. The story also discusses some of the techniques the system uses, including a component called Starlight which sets data out in 3D and other graphical patterns. This can show linkages through social behavior analysis in ways that traditional techniques may not.
Other questions not answered include what happens to the data, how long is it stored (likely forever) and when will the government use it to go after non-terrorists. After all, with a system such as this in place, it might be easier to track all those allegedly shady transactions by Enron. Would that information be available to prosecutors?
The information the government got from Yahoo and MSN and would like to get from Google would go very nicely in here to feed in more data. But then, the government really wants that information to defend COPA. You wouldn't think that was a ruse? Nah.
Microsoft Vista Antitrust?
Reports out there indicate that Microsoft Vista is getting scrutiny over the Welcome Center, which is the first thing a consumer sees when starting a Vista-loaded computer for the first time. It contains options to set features as well as commercials for partners and hardware makers. It's too early to tell whether this is a problem or not, as the government is still gathering information.
The story from TechWeb news is in Information Week, and contains links to the relevant government court filings.
FCC Study Supports a la carte Programming Choice
Consumers would save money by moving the cable/satellite distribution system to an a la carte system. Cables bills could be slashed as much as 13% if adopted. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he would introduce legislation that would create and promote the a la carte system. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) said if a la carte programming won't cost more, he would support that approach pending discussions with providers over the down side. They have plenty to say about that.
Let the lobbying begin.
February 9, 2006
E-annoy Law Challenged
TheAnonymousEmail.com web site is suing the government over the e-annoy law that was signed last month by President Bush. The law basically states that when you annoy someone on the Internet, you have to disclose you identity. The site lets people send anonymous messages for a $19.95 subscription fee.
The story is at CNET.
Google (Yawn) Tops in Search Market Share
SearchEngineWatch is commenting on the latest market shares of the major search engines. The quick results are as of December 2005, Google at 48.8 percent, up from 43.1 a year ago, Yahoo at 21.4 percent, down from 21.7, and MSN at 10.9 percent, down from 14.0 percent. Search totals jumped from 3.3 billion searches in 2004 to 5.1 billion searches in 2005, a 55 percent increase. No wonder the ad market has stormed back. That's where all the eyes are.
Google Introduces Desktop Beta 3
And it has some pretty interesting features. The most striking functionality is the ability to share information between multiple computers. This involves configuring the beta to actually do this as it's not a default setting. Once enabled, Desktop copies files to a Google server which are retrievable from a second computer also running the Desktop program. Security is maintained by requiring a Google login and Google's promise to keep information private. The storage is temporary as necessary. This is either a cool feature, or a disquieting back door to an invasion of privacy by the government, depending on the commentary.
There's probably some truth in both views. The ability to retrieve files from multiple computers is useful when one works with several computers. I have at least 3 at home and I'm constantly running between them with jump drives. On the other hand, I have to place a lot of faith in Google that my data is secure. They specifically note in their description of the service that private date is not subject to a Google search by others. But as we all know, Google and others are required to turn over data as part of a legitimate government investigation. I emphasize the word legitimate to distinguish one type of investigation from the broad swath of data he government is trying to rip out of Google in its defense of COPA. The fact that there is this third party out there holding personal data that may be available to the government in some circumstances may not motivate some to using the service. That's a personal decision. Information about the service from Google is here.
February 8, 2006
Yahoo Adds Detail to Email Spam Plan
On February 6th, I published an entry about a plan by Yahoo and AOL to charge some senders to have mail delivered to member's in-boxes. Yahoo provided this comment:
I'd like to provide some clarification about Yahoo!'s plans for testing the Goodmail certified mail system. Unfortunately today, there is no guarantee that email won't be delivered late, or to a bulk email box -- today, the spammers (pretty convincingly) pretend to be real users sending mail, resulting in filtering false positives. In our antispam team, we're certainly always working to develop more accurate filters -- delivering those messages that you want and value in your inbox, while delivering those that you think as spam to the bulk mail box.
Anyways, our initial testing will be focused on "transactional" email messages such as bank statements and receipts, as stated in this
release. These types of messages are heavily targeted in phishing attacks -- if we can highlight the real ones, users gain additional phishing protection.
Our delivery policies for non "certified mail" messages will not change.
So this won't curb spam. We'll just be able to do a better job in providing a safer environment.
We're also working on that first problem in general. Goodmail's reputation and accreditation service, is a complement to email authentication. As you may be aware, we are major proponent of email authentication, having invented DomainKeys
which mathmatically proves a sender's domain is valid or forged (the spec is now making its way through the IETF as DKIM). As Internet email gains this ability to distinguish between the real and forged, a safer, all email can see a safer and more reliable experience.
Antispam Product Manager
EU Denies Microsoft's Request for an Extension
The European Union today declined to extend the deadline for Microsoft to respond to charges that it did not comply with antitrust remedies. Microsoft must now meet the deadline of February 15th or face fines of 2 Million Euros per day retroactive to last December 15th.
Microsoft was also denied access to some documents in its file as it had requested earlier. The company said these documents were essential to its defense. Previously, the EU indicated that it would not release those documents that contained trade secrets, which it noted dryly was something Microsoft found dear. Documents where originators had waived confidentiality were released.
CNN Money has the story.
Net Neutraility in the News
Net neutrality is an issue that's breaking into the news. The idea that telcos and other network managers should be able to restrict their subscribers from getting to particular web sites, or to degrade services in favor of their own is getting legislative attention. There is a draft bill circulating through the House that has generated some criticism from content providers (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.).
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the issue yesterday (transcripts and video of the hearing available here), with panelists and witnesses from the predictable players. Vin Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google was there, along with Walter McCormick, President and CEO, United States Telecom Association, Jeffrey Citron, Chairman and CEO, Vonage and witnesses from other industry heavyweights. From the academic side and consumer side of the angle were appearances by Mr. Kyle Dixon, Senior Fellow and Director of the federal Institute for Regulatory Law & Economics, The Progress & Freedom Foundation, Prof. Lawrence Lessig, Standford Law School, and Prof. J. Gregory Sidak, Georgetown University Law Center, among others.
The issues pit the telcos and other backbone providers who would like to get more money for their investment against content providers. Ed Whitacre, head of the old SBC but now new AT&T has made statements about how web sites were getting a free ride from his company's pipes. The implication that SBC wanted to find a way to charge for access to web sites beyond web access subscriptions certainly got the attention of people. So did comments by Verizon's senior vice president and deputy general counsel John Thorne when he said that Google gets a free ride while riding on cheap servers.
Hardly hidden in all of this is the fact that these companies are dying to serve up television and video on demand - all bandwidth hogs - and they would like to upgrade their networks to make that bigger bandwidth service available without sharing it with service competitors. The companies, of course, say there is no need for regulation as the problem, if any, has not even occurred yet. There was one report a while back of a local carrier in the backwoods of Minnesota that prevented customers from subscribing to VoIP services, but the FCC stepped in and pulled the plug on that action.
The companies are urging that the market work it out rather than have congress put rules in place they say will have a negative incentive on investing in upgrading their networks. Of course, if they don't upgrade their networks, they will have a hard time providing all that self-generated content. The also say that it is economic suicide to degrade Internet speeds, which is true as the Internet is used today. But legislation that may give them the right could turn the Internet into the old systems when we had Compuserves and AOLs. Even AOL learned that they couldn't maintain a subscription base when they competed with the "free" Internet. Even they had to open up. This legislation could take us back to those days, with the only benefit that it would all be faster.
Perhaps the salvation in all of this is the trend towards municipal networks that give free wireless to their residents. That's another form of competition the telcos do not want. Google is building the municipal network for San Francisco. Perhaps their revenge will be to do the same in other places across the U.S.
February 7, 2006
Google Adds IM Capabilities to Gmail Client
Google has announced that it is adding an IM "client" to the Gmail interface. The client does not require a separate download, but will appear as a chat window below the inbox listing. Here's a graphic provided by Google. The same page has links to a FAQ related to the new feature.
Google had rolled out an IM stand alone client called Google Talk earlier. This was tied to the Gmail login and password. The stand alone client allowed individuals to make computer to computer calls. The mail window, however, only allows text rather than including the features of the stand alone client. The web client does allow archiving and the ability to turn that feature on or off. It is enabled by default. Chat histories appear in the inbox and can be manipulated as can an email message.
February 6, 2006
The Problem With Email
It's spam, of course, but the latest solution is not exactly a winner depending on who you are and what you do. AOL and Yahoo have announced a certified email service where senders will pay to send mail to members. They're partnering with Goodmail Systems who will create a filter that will separate commercial mail into tiers. Those who pay will go straight to the inbox while those who don't risk their messages being delivered late, or to a bulk email box, or with links and pictures removed. The fee would be between $2 and $3 per 1000 emails.
The companies are saying this would protect their members against spam, but others look at this as a crass attempt to open up another revenue stream. The companies involved, of course, deny this. There are no reports on the mechanics of the system from a consumer perspective.