May 262012
 
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Does search undermine property?  I don’t mean in the sense that some are arguing that Google subverts copyright to its own benefit.  Paul, for example, suggests that:

Google are looking down the barrel of a fantastic opportunity here: They could end up as the world’s default collecting society – collecting a fraction of the amount that national or regional players would (from Google!) for monetising unlicenced content. Creators will only have a monopoly to turn to.

I mean, rather, in the sense that search – the physiological process, impulse and reward which makes up and motivates that short-term desire to get an immediate answer – is actually destroying our ability to even care about where these gobbets of information come from.  If I’m right, it’s that not caring any more which is changing the rules – rather than Google’s latterly evil mission.

It’s not copyright infringement itself which is dismantling authors’ abilities to make a living out of their work but – at least in part – this “rising to the top” fallacy which search promotes that everything worth our attention can be found in a page of ten hyperlinks (often not even fully clicked upon) – and nothing worth our attention will be missed.  In the essence of this fallacy we have a massive psychological change in readers’ behaviours.  And it is that change which has prepared the ground and made it possible for the sadness of something for nothing.

There are those who would have us believe that the real enemies out there are those who promote a free and open web above all other considerations.  If it were only so easy to pin down.  If the enemy were as described it would be simple to excise them from the game.  The truth of the matter is that it is ourselves – those of us who consume, publish, write and exchange information – who are entirely to blame for allowing Google to foist the search fallacy on us.  Instead of writing for audiences of proper readers, we are shortening and slicing up our narratives to satisfy those who refuse to read more than three hundred words at a throw.

Or maybe just 140 characters.

We aren’t really pirates gratuitously searching to find something for nothing.  We are, instead, Pavlovian creatures looking for our next slavering short-term fix.  That is what search has turned us into.  Mental drug addicts who care only for what the intermediaries can bring them.

In a world which could’ve been one of liberated producer-consumers, we have fallen in love with our pushers.

In a sense, the 20th century mafias which built empires on the back of drug dependency have been mimicked in the 21st century by companies which give short shrift to content.  Whether search engines like Google, online media like Huffington Post or social websites like Facebook and Twitter, short and multi-authored is good whilst long and individually authored is bad.

Who’d have thought that the epitome of 21st century capitalism would be the very first destroyers of a true, coherent and properly woven individualism?  Who’d have thought that search would destroy authorship?

It’s not capitalism which has won the Cold War but a content Stalinism in its most evil unremunerated form.  And it’s not cocaine which is flooding our dreams any more – but words, stats and images which distract and headline our virtual streets.

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May 262012
 
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Most of you will already have read this awful piece of bullying from Christine Lagarde, the recently-appointed head of the IMF:

Asked if she is essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe that they have had a nice time and it is now payback time, she responds: “That’s right.”

She is also quoted as arguing:

Lagarde, predicting that the debt crisis has yet to run its course, adds: “Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.” She says she thinks “equally” about Greeks deprived of public services and Greek citizens not paying their tax.

“I think they should also help themselves collectively.” Asked how, she replies: “By all paying their tax.”

Curious tale, this one, I have to say.  “How so?” you might ask.  Well, I was trawling through the web just now and stumbled across a couple of stories from 2011.  This one for example, from the Australian in August of the same year, which describes how Ms Lagarde was going to be investigated for alleged misdeeds whilst a French minister.  I’ve also found this selfsame story, or at least its beginnings, reported earlier in the year in the Guardian and a couple of other papers.  But more recent news on this particular case seems to have dropped below the radar.

Anyone know if this investigation is still ongoing?  Because if it is, and Lagarde is able to convince herself she has the right to tell the Greeks it’s their own fault for defrauding the state, it’s a pretty disagreeable turn of affairs – and a quite nasty case of what some might care to call hypocrisy.

Pretty revolting, in fact.

And not only revolting – but enough to lead one to think of French revolution itself.

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Meanwhile, here I’ve come across another far more recent story (in French this time) (translated by Google robot to English here) – and on a separate court case currently being initiated in France – which just serves to make the whole situation even murkier.  So do you think it’s really reasonable that someone should be defending themselves from such accusations – even if ultimately baseless – whilst reserving the right to berate a whole nation as one for not paying its taxes?

Wouldn’t it be better if politicians and international figures accepted that there were limits to their rights to continue politicking and figuring whilst facing accusations such as these?  Or do we now believe that society is to be so even-handed that ongoing and continuous investigations of public behaviours exhibited by political actors will be a par for the course – even an acceptable sign of a public figure having properly arrived?

Have we reached the point where in European society – and in European I include British – clearing one’s name is no longer a prerequisite to continued political and financial activity but, rather, simply one more tiresome accessory attached to those who may choose to continue to make and shake their ways to the top of these manifestly inefficient – and ultimately self-serving – pyramids of undemocratic power?

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A final thought to be going away with.  To me, this is feeling more and more like a potential Berlin Wall moment.  Experts in high finance, economists, their political hangers-on … all kinds of alleged professionals in fact … they have all had their chances to create a perfect and sustainably continuous economic model.  This has now clearly failed.  The problem isn’t the probity of Greek citizens here: the problem is systemic failure by the all-too-clever whizzkids who run our societies outwith a meaningful democracy.  It does occur to me, then, that bullying behaviours such as those Lagarde has displayed in her Guardian interview come to the surface when people get running scared of what they realise they could have caused.

Mightn’t it be the case that as these stratospheric geniuses exhort payback time for the Greeks, and attempt to drill the fear of financial Armageddon into the souls of every Greek taxpayer, they are really expressing their unholy preoccupation with the following reality – that they’ve spent the last half a century preaching what they do not themselves know how to practise?

Ms Lagarde does, after all, apparently earn $US467,940 a year for showing us how well she knows how to bully sovereign peoples like the Greeks.  With an incentive like that, it can’t be all that difficult to work up the corresponding sweat.

We mustn’t forget, however, that being a bully is a cowardly state.  A bully’s bluster is inversely proportional to the security they feel about their own situation.

So if Ms Lagarde is the bully I suspect she should be seen as, the sense of security the top brass at the IMF currently feel must be about as low as the most homeless of the bottom-of-the-pile subjects who inhabit our nation.  A terrifying thought, right?  The only slight difference being she can get her voice heard in the Guardian when she needs to.

As well as afford the corresponding plane tickets in order that she might spread – in a contagious and reportable disease kind of way – her noxious brand of sanctimony.

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May 262012
 
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This post from Google the other day leads us to fascinating data:

We believe that openness is crucial for the future of the Internet. When something gets in the way of the free flow of information, we believe there should be transparency around what that block might be.

So two years ago we launched the Transparency Report, showing when and what information is accessible on Google services around the world. We started off by sharing data about the government requests we receive to remove content from our services or for information about our users. Then we began showing traffic patterns to our services, highlighting when they’ve been disrupted.

This page, on government requests for user data, is most revealing for example.  Whilst in the first half of 2011 the US made 5,950 requests for user data, with an acceptance rate by Google of 93 percent and a user/account total of 11,057, the United Kingdom made 1,279 requests in the same period, and of 1,444 users/accounts – requests which Google granted in 63 percent of cases.

A couple of observations.  Firstly, population-wise and comparatively speaking, the number of requests the US and UK made in the aforementioned period is very similar.  Secondly, it would appear that Google – an American company – has a significant bias towards accepting requests from the US government compared to, in this case, the UK.

But although the trends towards more requests for user and account data are showing a worrying increase, in reality what should really worry us is the data Google provides in relation to removal of websites from its search engine.  The public provision of data relating to the latter is, as Google underlines, recent:

Today we’re expanding the Transparency Report with a new section on copyright. Specifically, we’re disclosing the number of requests we get from copyright owners (and the organizations that represent them) to remove Google Search results because they allegedly link to infringing content. We’re starting with search because we remove more results in response to copyright removal notices than for any other reason. […]

And the figures for such removals?  Well, they’re quite startling – shocking one might even be inclined to say.  At the time of writing this post, and in the past month, over a million requests have been made to remove webpage addresses from Google’s search.  Interestingly, one of the major technology companies – Microsoft – heads the list with over half a million addresses it or its representatives claim infringe content which it holds copyrights on.

My conclusions?  It hardly seems necessary for us to worry about ACTA or SOPA any more.  If so many powerful organisations can remove websites from Google’s search by simply making one of a million other monthly requests, the invisibility cloak this drops over anyone trying to get their voice heard could – in other quite different circumstances – be easily stifled and eliminated.

Powerful voices are made powerful because they are heard.  Removal from a private monopolistic search service like Google’s is a tool those in charge could easily begin to employ – without resorting to the courts – to ensure a certain way of seeing and doing held sway.

Requesting that someone become invisible on Google’s web is these days to allow the option for a de facto censorship.  Another example of how Western governments could now be preparing the ground for private industry to do their social-media and citizen-sourced “communication smothering” without due and proper judicial process?

For this is, in fact, one way that fascism may creep in to democracy: when governments allow private corporate figures – outside due legal process – to determine who may speak, who may debate, who may exchange ideas and who may publish.

As well as who may not do all the aforementioned.

Dangerous shiny times, this consumerism which superficially entrances so.

These are not free times we live in – but fearful.  This is not an open web we have but Google’s own private playground.

Facebook is not the enemy but a response.  Half-baked at that, it would seem from the latest news.  Meanwhile, the real cause of all our miseries lies clearly elsewhere.

And it begins with what has become our favourite cloak engine!

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