Bits & Pieces – Search, Speech, Privacy, Interdependence

The Illusion of Search

Casey Chan at Gizmodo.com suggests in this brief post that Google.com “barely shows real search results” on an initial results page, devoting a lot of screen real estate instead to Google services.  According to the linked study at Tutorspree, the problem is only exacerbated on smaller screens, and searching for products and services appears to put small business in direct competition with Google, which could well be the seeds of an anti-trust violation.

This does look a lot like an Illusion of More subject — the assumption that a universe of knowledge and resources is at our fingertips is betrayed by the reality of a circumscribed world designed to serve one corporate powerhouse.  It’s worth paying attention to with regard to consumer-based search, although research based search still seems to be relatively unchanged.  If I search something fairly esoteric like “Charles Giteau,” the delusional sap who shot President Garfield, I get links that are arguably valid results.

Free speech has its limits, even on Twitter

Speaking of presidential assassinations, it turns out that it’s a bad idea to threaten the President of the United States (or anyone else under Secret Service protection) even through social media.  The New York Times reports that Jarvis Britton (26) posted assassination threats against President Obama and that he is now serving a one-year term in federal prison.  After an initial round of threats, Mr. Britton was visited by Secret Service agents, who let him go after he apologized and said he’d been drunk; but it was Britton’s subsequent threatening tweets that led to prosecution.

Speaking for myself, if Secret Service agents showed up at my door and let me off with a warning, I might just find religion and join a monastery; but somehow there is a persistent yet absurd belief that social media is in some way private and personal.  We continue to see evidence that users of social media fail to recognize that it is a soapbox in the city square, and one that creates indelible impressions.   The free speech question in this case is settled law. If you say you wish the president would die, that’s protected speech; if you say you intend to kill the president, that’s grounds for being investigated and possibly prosecuted.  Why this would be any different on Twitter or other social media is a mystery to me, but I’m sure someone will offer a bizarre theory to the contrary.

Privacy Concerns

While many Americans continue to post gripes about their perception that the 4th Amendment no longer exists, I see far less wall-space being devoted to Google’s privacy policies landing it in hot water again.  Inviting censure from five EU countries, privacy watchdogs have expressed concerns as to how user data will be “shared” across the spectrum of Google products and how transparent Google is with regard to user understanding of the policies.

As I have stated repeatedly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping a weather eye on government intelligence services, but I continue to be surprised by the level of Orwell-invoking hysteria while simultaneously volunteering privacy away via private companies like Google.  If Snowden reveals anything (and I personally don’t think he reveals much), it’s that at the point when government agents do infringe civil rights their information is going to come from large telecom and internet companies.  Where else do we expect them to look?

A Declaration of Interdependence

In a rare moment of digital-age exuberance on this American Independence weekend, I leave you with this wonderful short film that reminds us that interdependence is a requisite constituent to human existence.  Directed by filmmaker Tiffany Shain, with animations by Stefan Nadelman, and music by Moby, the film is comprised of clips submitted from around the globe of individuals reading “The Declaration of Interdependence” in their native languages.

The reality of the internet, I believe, is that it does indeed connect us or, as this film reveals, reminds us that we have always been connected.  That is the power of these technologies, and the collaborative filmmaking being done at Let it Ripple is certainly inspiring and also humbling.  But this film also brings to mind the tension of the digital age.  With awareness of interdependence comes greater responsibility to live accordingly.   And as discussed in recent posts, the technology seems to foster the dichotomy of committing selfish acts under the cover of a generalized humanism.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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