Sunday, December 03, 2017

IOT is coming to town

You better watch out



#WatchOut Analysis of smartwatches for children (Norwegian Consumer Council, October 2017). BoingBoing comments that
Kids' smart watches are a security/privacy dumpster-fire.

Charlie Osborne, Smartwatch security fails to impress: Top devices vulnerable to cyberattack (ZDNet, 22 July 2015)

A new study into the security of smartwatches found that 100 percent of popular device models contain severe vulnerabilities.

Matt Hamblen, As smartwatches gain traction, personal data privacy worries mount (Computerworld, 22 May 2015)
Companies could use wearables to track employees' fitness, or even their whereabouts. 


You better not cry

Source: Affectiva


Rana el Kaliouby, The Mood-Aware Internet of Things (Affectiva, 24 July 2015)

Six Wearables to Track Your Emotions (A Plan For Living)

Soon it might be just as common to track your emotions with a wearable device as it is to monitor your physical health. 

Anna Umanenko, Emotion-sensing technology in the Internet of Things (Onyx Systems)


Better not pout


Shaun Moore, Fooling Facial Recognition (Medium, 26 October 2017)

Mingzhe Jiang et al, IoT-based Remote Facial Expression Monitoring System with sEMG Signal (IEEE 2016)

Facial expression recognition is studied across several fields such as human emotional intelligence in human-computer interaction to help improving machine intelligence, patient monitoring and diagnosis in clinical treatment. 


I'm telling you why


Maria Korolov, Report: Surveillance cameras most dangerous IoT devices in enterprise (CSO, 17 November 2016)

Networked security cameras are the most likely to have vulnerabilities. 

Leor Grebler, Why do IOT devices die (Medium, 3 December 2017)

IOT is coming to town


Nick Ismail, The role of the Internet of Things in developing Smart Cities (Information Age, 18 November 2016)


It's making a list And checking it twice


Daan Pepijn, Is blockchain tech the missing link for the success of IoT? (TNW, 21 September 2017)



Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice


Police Using IoT To Detect Crime (Cyber Security Intelligence, 14 Feb 2017)

James Pallister, Will the Internet of Things set family life back 100 years? (Design Council, 3 September 2015)


It sees you when you're sleeping It knows when you're awake


But don't just monitor your sleep. Understand it. The Sense app gives you instant access to everything you could want to know about your sleep. View a detailed breakdown of your sleep cycles, see what happened during your night, discover trends in your sleep quality, and more. (Hello)

Octav G, Samsung’s SLEEPsense is an IoT-enabled sleep tracker (SAM Mobile, 2 September 2015)



It knows if you've been bad or good So be good for goodness sake!


US intelligence chief: we might use the internet of things to spy on you (The Guardian, 9 Feb 2015)

Ben Rossi, IoT and free will: how artificial intelligence will trigger a new nanny state (Information Age, 7 June 2016)





Twitter Version


Related Posts

Pax Technica - The Book (November 2017)
Pax Technica - The Conference (November 2017)
Pax Technica - On Risk and Security (November 2017)
The Smell of Data (December 2017)

Updated 10 December 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Pax Technica - On Risk and Security

#paxtechnica Some further thoughts arising from the @CRASSHlive conference in Cambridge on The Implications of the Internet of Things. (For a comprehensive account, see @LaurieJ's livenotes.)

Many people are worried about the security implications of the Internet of Things. The world is being swamped with cheap internet-enabled devices. As the manufacturing costs, size and power consumption of these devices are being driven down, most producers have neither the expertise not the capacity to build any kind of security into them.

One of the reasons why this problem is increasing is that it is cheaper to use a general-purpose chip than to design a special purpose chip. So most IoT devices have far more processing power and functionality than they strictly need. This extra functionality can be then coopted for covert or malicious purposes. IoT devices may easily be recruited into a global botnet, and devices from some sources may even have been covertly designed for this purpose.

Sensors are bad enough - baby monitors and sex toys. Additional concerns apply to IoT actuators - devices that can produce physical effects. For example, lightbulbs that can flash (triggering epileptic fits), thermostats that can switch on simultaneously across a city (melting the grid), centrifuges that can spin out of control (attempting to sabotage Iran's nuclear capability).

Jon Crowcroft proposed that some of this could be addressed in terms of safety and liability. Safety is a useful driver for increased regulation, and insurance companies will be looking for ways to protect themselves and their corporate customers. While driverless cars generate much discussion, similar questions of safety and liability arise from any cars containing significant quantities of new technology. What if the brake algorithm fails? And given the recent history of cheat software by car manufacturers, can we trust the car not to alter the driver logs in order to evade liability for an accident?

In many cases, the consumer can be persuaded that there are benefits from internet-enabled devices, and these benefits may depend on some level of interoperability between multiple devices. But we aren't equipped to reason about the trade-off between accessibility/usability and security/privacy.

For comparison's sake, consider a retailer who has to decide whether to place the merchandise in locked glass cases or on open shelves. Open shelves will result in more sales, but also more shoplifting. So the retailer locks up the jewelry but not the pencils or the furniture, and this is based on a common-sense balance of value and risk.

But with the Internet of Things, people generally don't have a good enough understanding of value and risk to be able to reason intelligently about this kind of trade-off. Philip Howard advises users to appreciate that devices "have an immediate function that is useful to you and an indirect function that is useful to others" (p255). But just knowing this is not enough. True security will only arise when we have the kind of transparency (or visibility or unconcealment) that I referenced in my previous post.


Related Posts

Defeating the Device Paradigm (October 2015)
Pax Technica - The Book (November 2017)
Pax Technica - The Conference (November 2017)
The Smell of Data (December 2017)


References

Cory Doctorow, The Coming War on General Computation (2011)

Carl Herberger, How hackers will exploit the Internet of Things in 2017 (HelpNet Security, 14 November 2016)

Philip Howard, Pax Technica: How The Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (Yale 2015)

Laura James, Pax Technica Notes (Session 1Session 2Session 3Session 4)

Holly Robbins, The Path for Transparency for IoT Technologies (ThingsCon, June 2017)

Jack Wallen, Five nightmarish attacks that show the risks of IoT security (ZDNet, 1 June 2017)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pax Technica - The Book

In preparation for a @CRASSHlive conference in Cambridge this coming week (Pax Technica: The Implications of the Internet of Things), I've been reading Philip Howard's book, subtitled How The Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up.

I'm going to start my review by quoting Howard's definition of his subject.
The "internet of things" consists of human-made objects with small power supplies, embedded sensors, and addresses on the internet. Most of these networked devices are everyday items that are sending and receiving data about their conditions and our behavior. Unlike mobile phones and computers, devices on these networks are not designed for deliberate social interaction, content creation, or cultural consumption. The bulk of these networked devices simply communicate with other devices: coffeemakers, car parts, clothes, and a plethora of other products. This will not be an internet you experience through a browser. Indeed, as the technology develops, many of us will be barely aware that so many objects around us have power, are sensing, and are sending and receiving data. (xi)
IoT experts may quibble with some of the details of this definition, but it broadly makes sense.


My first problem with Howard's book is that he doesn't stick to this definition. He talks a lot about devices in general, but most of the time he is talking about other kinds of devices, such as mobile phones and chatbots. The book contains a wealth of reporting on the disruption caused by digital networks. But much of this is not about the internet of things as he defines it, but about social media, big data, fake news and other internet phenemena. These are important topics to be sure, which have been excellently addressed by other sociologists such as Zeynep Tufekci, as well as in the previous CRASSH conference Power Switch. But the book claims to be about something different.


My second problem with Howard's book is that he doesn't really question the notion of "device". There is a considerable literature on the philosophy of technology going back to Heidegger via Herbert Dreyfus and Albert Borgmann. In his Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger wrote
In our time, things are not even regarded as objects, because their only important quality has become their readiness for use. Today all things are being swept together into a vast network in which their only meaning lies in their being available to serve some end that will itself also be directed towards getting everything under control.

Albert Borgmann introduced the notion of the Device Paradigm to analyse the way "technological devices" are perceived and consumed in modern society. In many situations, there is a fetish of the "device", obscuring the network infrastructure that is required to deliver the affordance or "commodity" of the device.

One of the consequences of this is that discussion of the internet of things tends to focus on the "things" rather than the "internet of". At a healthcare event I attended a couple of years ago, various technology companies were exhibiting a range of wearable or implantable devices - some monitoring, some actively intervening. A patient with multiple conditions might be wearing several such devices. But these devices don't and currently cannot communicate with one other (as suggested by Howard's definition quoted above). Instead, as Howard acknowledges is the case for most devices, they are "designed to report data back to designers, manufacturers, and third party analysts" (p211) - either directly or via an app on the user's smartphone. So that's basically a hub and spoke network.

To thrive in the Pax Technica, Howard advises, "you can be a more sophisticated user ... you can be a functionally prominent political actor by thoughtfully managing your internet of things" (p254-5). But what would that entail? Holly Robbins talks about a language to unmask the complexity of IoT. In 1986, before I had read any Heidegger or Borgmann, I called this Visibility. Heidegger calls it Unconcealment (Unverborgenheit).

Borgmann's own approach is based on what he calls focal things and practices. As Wendt argues, the Internet of Things must create meaningful interactions in order to succeed.

... something found in all of us: the need to take an active role in the world, to shape and design things, and to form rituals around activities. This is not to say we can’t do these things with smart objects, but it does underscore the importance of conscious, embodied interaction with things. The Internet of Things will only be successful if products are designed with purpose.

So I'm hoping that these aspects of the Internet of Things will be discussed on Friday ...


Related Posts


Understanding the Value Chain of the Internet of Things (June 2015)
Some marketing experts are seeing the Internet of Things as a way of reasserting control over the consumer. 

Defeating the Device Paradigm (Oct 2015)
The Internet of Things is not a random collection of devices. It is a safety-critical system of systems, and must be understood (and regulated) as such. But it often suits certain commercial interests to focus our attention on the devices and away from the rest of the system. This is related to what Borgmann calls the Device Paradigm. 

Towards the Internet of Underthings (Nov 2015)
We are now encouraged to account for everything we do: footsteps, heartbeats, posture. Until recently this kind of micro-attention to oneself was regarded as slightly obsessional, nowadays it seems to be perfectly normal. And of course these data are collected, and sent to the cloud, and turned into someone else's big data. (Good luck with those privacy settings, by the way.)
Pax Technica - The Conference (November 2017)
Pax Technica - On Risk and Security (November 2017)


References


Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (Chicago, 1984)

Oliver Christ, Martin Heidegger‘s Notions of World and Technology in the Internet of Things age (Asian Journal of Computer and Information Systems, Volume 03– Issue 02, April 2015)

Philip Howard, Pax Technica: How The Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up (Yale 2015)

Holly Robbins, The Path for Transparency for IoT Technologies (ThingsCon, June 2017)

Zeynep Tufekci, Engineering the public: Big data, surveillance and computational politics (First Monday, Volume 19, Number 7, 7 July 2014)

Richard Veryard, The Role of Visibility in Systems (Human Systems Management 6, 1986)

Thomas Wendt, Internet of Things and the Work of the Hands (UX Magazine, 12 March 2014)

Wikipedia: Device Paradigm

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Blockchain and the Edge of Disruption - Brexit

In August 2017, the British government released a position paper on future customs arrangements with the EU following Brexit. Among other things, the paper suggested that new technology would address some of the challenges of maintaining trade "as frictionless as possible". In his report, the BBC technology correspondent mentioned number plate recognition, artificial intelligence, and of course blockchain. This week I met with a couple of our blockchain experts at Reply to brief me on what blockchain can and can't do to address this challenge.

First, let's understand the nature of the challenge. When goods cross a customs border, they have to be declared. Some shipments are inspected to check that these declarations are accurate. This process has three objectives.
  • To ensure that the goods don't exceed some import/export quota, and to levy customs duties if necessary
  • To ensure that the goods satisfy applicable standards and regulations - for example food safety
  • To identify contraband or counterfeit goods
Importers should be able to submit customs declarations electronically before the shipment reaches the border. This should enable customs officials (or algorithms working on their behalf) to select shipments for casual or close inspection, thus reducing delays at the border.

Note that these processes already exist for goods entering the European single market. But the potential impact of Brexit is a massive increase in the volume of cross-border shipments, and current systems and procedures are not expected to be able to handle these volumes. Goods will be delayed, with implications not only for cost but also the quality of fresh produce. Just-in-time supply chains will be disrupted. 

The primary contribution of blockchain here is establish a robust and watertight data trail for goods. This means that if goods are properly labelled, the blockchain can deliver a complete history. This doesn't remove the need for customs declarations, but under certain conditions it could reduce the need for inspections at the border. For example, instead of being located at the border, a plain clothes customs inspector might visit retail outlets with a hand-held label reader, verifying the blockchain record associated with the label, with the power to seize goods and instigate prosecutions.

The blockchain can tell you about the provenance of the item identified on the label, but what's to stop someone switching labels, reusing old labels or even cloning labels?

For some goods the stakes are very high. The lost revenue from the smuggling and counterfeiting of cigarettes alone is estimated at €10bn a year. So a Europe-wide system is being implemented to track cigarettes: by May 2019 all tobacco products within the EU are required to be "marked with a unique identifier" and security stamp. So that's just one high-stakes product, with a relatively small number of manufacturers.

For diamonds, the stakes are even higher. The Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was introduced in 2003 to control trade in "conflict diamonds", but there are many flaws in the scheme.
"If a consumer went into almost any jeweller in the UK and asked for the origin of a diamond on display, staff would most be most unlikely to be able confirm which country, let alone the mine, it was sourced from." [Guardian, March 2014]

My colleagues briefed me on some interesting innovations they are working on for specific high-value products. One possibility is to inscribe a unique identifier into the product itself. For example, diamonds can be etched with a laser, expensive shoes can have the identifier embedded in the heel. And with 3D printing, it may be possible to manufacture each item with its own unique identifier.

Another possibility is to create a detailed description of each item. Everledger, which describes itself as a permanent ledger for high-value assets, uses more than 40 features, including colour and clarity, to create a diamond's ID. It is now moving on to other high-value products such as fine wine. In future, such schemes should make it more difficult to pull off the kind of criminal sleight of hand for which Rudy Kurniawan got ten years in prison.

To prevent cloning, you need more than blockchain. Just as numberplate recognition fails if people can use false numberplates, so blockchain labelling fails if people such as Kurniawan can easily reuse or copy the labels. At a wine auction in 2006, he offered eight magnums of 1947 Château Lafleur. This immediately aroused suspicion, because only five magnums were ever produced. If he had sold each bottle separately, would anyone have noticed? Yes perhaps, if every sale had to be recorded in the blockchain.

If criminals have access to such technologies as etching and 3D printing, they may be able to create exact copies of labels and products that would appear valid when checked against the blockchain. So to guard against this, the blockchain has to have sufficient visibility of the supply chain to detect any duplicates.

In other words, to use blockchain properly, it's not enough to maintain a record of the origin of an item. You have to have a complete record of all transactions involving the item, including inspections. This means adding to the blockchain at every link in the supply chain. As the industry body BIFA observes in relation to blockchain generally,
"this technology ... can only reap its full benefits if all stakeholders/members of the supply chain make use of the technology and can access it"

Further difficulties arise where goods are processed. For example, when a large animal or fish is cut up into pieces, to be sold to multiple consumers. Blockchain can be used to check that the total weight of the pieces is consistent with the original weight of the whole, but again this assumes that all the pieces are tracked. However, there is considerable interest in getting this kind of scheme to work effectively for products where sustainability is a major issue, such as tuna.

Where there are transformation points in the supply chain - such as cutting a rough diamond into jewels or cutting a whole tuna into steaks - these can be subject to special monitoring and certification, and this can itself be written into the blockchain for further reassurance. 


In summary, my colleagues have convinced me that there are significant opportunities for blockchain in supporting the supply chain for selected high-value or safety-critical products, provided certain assumptions are met. Blockchain is not necessarily the whole solution, but works when appropriately combined with other innovations.

But even these schemes will take years to get up to speed. We started with the problem of massive increases in the volume of shipments crossing customs borders. In the examples I've discussed here, customs facilitation is not the primary motive for introducing blockchain, but may be an additional benefit. However, it is hard to see a sufficient number of these schemes being operational in time for Brexit, let alone a universal system for all categories of goods.
 



Stephen Adams, Brexit customs questions (Global Counsel, 16 August 2017)

Ian Allison, Blockchain plus 3D printing equals 'smart manufacturing' and Ethereum you can touch (International Business Times, 11 October 2016)

Aleya Begum, UK outlines "fantasy" post-Brexit customs position (GTR Review, 16 August 2017)

British International Freight Association, Blockchain Technology in Logistics (BIFA, Feb 2017)

John Campbell, Report suggests 'low friction' Brexit border solution (BBC News, 25 November 2017)

Rory Cellan-Jones, Can tech solve the Brexit border puzzle? (BBC News, 16 August 2017)

Chris Grey, Why Brexiters are flummoxed by the Irish Border (2 December 2017)

Lars Karlsson, Smart Border 2.0: Avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland for Customs control and the free movement of persons (European Parliament, November 2017)

John Temple Lang, Brexit and Ireland Legal, Political and Economic Considerations (European Parliament, November 2017)

Matthew Lesh, Blockchain offers an innovative solution to the Brexit customs puzzle (Brexit Central, 17 August 2017)

Natasha Lomas, Everledger Is Using Blockchain To Combat Fraud, Starting With Diamonds (TechCrunch 29 Jun 2015)

Paul McClean, EU report backs joint effort to trace illicit cigarettes (FT, 22 December 2016)

Adele Peters, Tracking Tuna On The Blockchain To Prevent Slavery And Overfishing (Fast Company, 8 Sept 2016)

Jeff John Roberts, Big Pharma Turns to Blockchain to Track Meds (Fortune, 21 Sep 2017)

Gian Volpicelli, How the blockchain is helping stop the spread of conflict diamonds (Wired, 15 February 2017)

Wikipedia: Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, Rudy Kurniawan


Related Posts:

Steering the Enterprise of Brexit (November 2016)
Blockchain and the Edge of Disruption - Fake News (September 2017)


Updated 22 September 2017
Further links added 3 December 2017

Friday, September 01, 2017

Blockchain and the Edge of Disruption - Fake News

In a world where stability and trust are under threat, blockchain may seem to be a good way of holding the line. In the past month, @omribarzi has written several Forbes articles describing various applications of blockchain technology.

In this post I want to look at his proposal for addressing the problem of fake news, in which he makes the following claims:
  • Blockchain Tech Seeks to Decentralize News
  • Blockchain Tech Can Fix Mainstream Media
  • Blockchain Can Also fix Social Media
  • Giving Control Back to the Users
So let's start with the problem statement.
"The biggest issue with news sources in the digital age is verifiability. ... During the last American election, accusations of bias were everywhere, and the public has grown sick of the lack of clear and unbiased journalism."
 One of the things that blockchain can do is provide a clear lineage for a given item. If someone presents you with a dodgy story and claims that it comes from a reputable source such as the BBC, you can (if you choose) inspect the blockchain to verify this claim.

Or you could just look on the BBC website. It is not clear that blockchain is any easier or more reliable than other methods of fact-checking.

One use case described in the article is that "writers can offer snippets -- concise summaries of news articles". Blockchain may be able to verify that an original news article has a reputable source, but how can Blockchain verify that the summary accurately represents the original news article or articles? Fake news can sometimes contain true snippets taken out of context, and juxtaposed with other material to create a deliberately false impression.

A lot of recent fake news has been exposed by simple fact check. For example, the false assertion that President Obama played golf during Hurricane Katrina is refuted by a simple date check (Obama was not president during Katrina) or by looking at contemporary news reports. Is there a way that Blockchain could establish a link from the snippet to the fact-check?

And the quality of news is not just dependent on identifying the source. The BBC is a reliable source of news for many topics, but in some areas (e.g. climate change, Brexit economics) a dogmatic notion of "balance" results in its giving the same respect to dubious minority opinions as to expert consensus.

Verifiability is ultimately a question of methodology. Where a news story is controversial or politically charged, a good journalist or editor strongly prefers multiple independent sources, and will actively check the most obvious ways in which the story might be refuted (such as reverse image search). How is Blockchain going to help here?

Most of the time, fact-checking is relatively easy if you can be bothered. The reason fake news flourishes is that people can't be bothered. Often they can't even be bothered to read the article or view the video before reposting something, so the "like" is based purely on a seductive headline.

The article describes a platform called Snip, which will establish a reputation economy, and somehow remain immune to armies of bots. Snip means you never have to read long-form journalism (if you don't want to) and it has a machine learning algorithm "that learns you and your preferences so the end result is highly relevant personalize genuine news feed". Sounds pretty much like Facebook. Is that really "giving control back to the users"?



Omri Barzilay, Why Blockchain Is The Future Of The Sharing Economy (Forbes, 14 August 2017)
Omri Barzilay, 3 Ways Blockchain Is Revolutionizing Cybersecurity (Forbes, 21 August 2017)
Omri Barzilay, How Blockchain Is Reinventing Your News Feed (Forbes, 28 August 2017)
Omri Barzilay, Will Blockchain Change The Way We Invest? (Forbes, 30 August 2017)

Alexandra Svokos, Barack Obama Actually Visited Hurricane Katrina Victims, So Haters Get Out (Elite Daily, 31 August 2017)

Related Post: Blockchain and the Edge of Disruption - Brexit (September 2017) 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

The PowerPoint Collection

A collection of blogposts about PowerPoint.


Corrupting Evidence (Feb 2005) 
Edward Tufte is writing a book called Beautiful Evidence, about the proper and improper use of modern rhetorical media, such as PowerPoint.

What Exactly is PowerPoint For? (March 2006)
Microsoft is making concerted efforts to improve their own use of PowerPoint, and to encourage others to use it better. Bill Gates spoke without slides in his keynote speech at Mix06.

Beyond Bullet Points (May 2006)
Some of my friends at Microsoft are excited about Cliff Atkinson and his "new" presentation style, based on the work of psychology professor Richard E. Mayer.

Who's the Dick in the Wine Bar (May 2006)
If you are accustomed to traditional PowerPoint, beware. You may find these videos disturbing.

PowerPoint Slides (Nov 2006)
It is not Microsoft's fault if the Pentagon makes inappropriate use of the available tools. Loads of stupid documents have been written in Word, and loads of bad accounts produced in Excel. But it is PowerPoint gets most of the criticism.

Blame PowerPoint (Oct 2009)
If different groups or communities use PowerPoint differently, there may be many different PowerPoints-in-use corresponding to a single PowerPoint-as-built.

Visualizing Complexity (April 2010)
Lot of people have been mocking a diagram that attempts to visualize the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan using system dynamics, rendered as a PowerPoint slide. (Many people have chosen to blame PowerPoint for the complexity of this diagram.) See also Understanding Complexity (July 2010)

Visual Cliché in Architectural Discourse (Nov 2010)
The visual language of architectural discourse, from enterprise to software, is surprisingly weak. Many diagrams look as if they may have started as meaningful sentences, but they have been transformed into diagrams by discarding most of the words and putting the remaining words into coloured shapes, arranged artistically on the slide.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Power of Twitter

Let's suppose I want to find an intelligent review of a film.

If I just put the name of the film into Google, I will get endless repetitions of the synopsis, together with details of cinemas showing the film, or places to buy/download.

In my post You don't have to be smart to search here ... but it helps (Nov 2008), I outlined one possible trick. If you put the name of the film together with a random cultural icon (my example was Lacan), you will get reviews of the film that name-drop the icon. That immediately filters out all the standard cinema listings. However, you might need to try a number of different cultural icons until you strike lucky.

A second option is to subscribe to good magazines. When I watched the film Anomalisa, I didn't immediately make the connection with Schopenhauer. The connection was made for me by a fascinating review by Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books.



Once you know that such a connection exists, you can use Google to find it. But Google won't make that connection for you - unless sufficient numbers of other people have already made that connection.

So here's a third option. Twitter allows you to have a list of intelligent film critics, and intelligent magazines containing intelligent film reviews. Either you decide for yourself what counts as intelligent, or you adopt someone else's list. Then you can search through the list for seriously intelligent reviews of the latest film. You can't do anything quite like this with Google.


When you search for something, Google can give you page after page of practically identical material - for example, hundreds of newspapers all repeating the same press release. What one really wants is a search engine that works out which page represents the original source, which pages represent replications with no added content or value, and which pages offer additional commentary and interpretation. It is possible that Twitter, with its conversational structure, may be closer to providing this kind of navigation. But only if the platform can achieve reasonable commercial viability without being polluted.

The Force of Goole

When people talk about Internet Binging, they aren't talking about using the world's fourth most popular internet search engine. According to @ruskin147's BBC Radio Four documentary The Force of Google this evening, people don't even use the generic phrase "searching the internet". They use the word "Google". I think I heard someone say that the word is now more popular than the word "eggs".

Rory discussed several ways that hard-boiled Google poaches Internet business, while scrambling our brains.

1.  Business is dependent on the caprice of Google ranking. Rory talks to the owner of a fly fishing company, which gets a significant proportion of his business via Google. When Google changed its algorithm in 2013, his webpage dropped from page one to page seven - almost equivalent to a commercial death penalty. Then inexplicably it climbed back again - the death penalty reprieved. Readers with long memories will remember the story of BMW (Feb 2006), which was banished from Google for three days in 2006.
 
2. In trying to be as helpful as possible to searchers, Google sometimes fails to respect the interests of other information providers. For example, if you search for hotels in Bury, you get Google's automatically curated list before you get lists from rival platforms such as TripAdvisor and Yelp. 

3. In the past, there has been some evidence that Google is biased towards controversial new technologies, perhaps because the technology vendors spend more on advertising than the technology sceptics. I have noted this apparent bias in relation to Biometrics (Nov 2003) and RFID (Nov 2005). Google now seems to have made some progress on this issue - Rory looked up "fracking" and got a more even-handed view from Google than from Bing.

4. Even without any obvious commercial or political agenda on Google's part, it is easy to see how Google's results could appear to show a lack of balance. Note for example the recent controversy about Unprofessional Hair. There have also been suggestions that Google page ranking could influence the public perception of politicians and thus sway elections.

5. One of the most dangerous aspects of the Google phenomenon is the widespread illusion that Google gives you Objective Truth. Rory talks to Ben Gomes, who is described as Google's Guru of Search, who talks about the Quest for the Perfect Search.

"The perfect search is giving you what you were looking for. Not just the words you typed - but what you were actually looking for."

The programme gave the impression that Google is converging on the Perfect Search. Rory himself says he generally finds what he is looking for. My own experience is that it sometimes requires a fair amount of ingenuity to find stuff, especially interesting and original stuff. See my posts You don't have to be smart to search here ... but it helps (Nov 2008) and Thinking with the Majority (March 2009). See also The Power of Twitter (April 2016).



Wondering about the deliberate spelling mistake in the title of this post? I wanted to pay tribute to a listing from @brightonargus.
Which reminded me of the original Argus Panoptes, the giant who would be the mythical ancestor of Google. And also the ARGUS-IS system, a secret rival to Google's Street View.  Even Argus may have flawed vision sometimes.

Wikipedia: Argus Panoptes, ARGUS-IS.

Leigh Alexander, Do Google's 'unprofessional hair' results show it is racist? (Guardian 8 April 2016)

Rory Cellan-Jones, Six searches that show the power of Google (BBC 26 April 2016)

Konrad Krawczyk, Google is easily the most popular search engine, but have you heard who’s in second? (Digital Trends, 3 July 2014)