Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Google should keep its business out of the ITU.

Today, I noticed that Google's homepage added a link to a very nebulous page titled "Take Action, A free and open world depends on a free and open web.":

The first thing the user is presented with is very vague facts about what the ITU is and Google's stance about it. Then Google wants you to part with your:

First and Last name
E-mail address
Stance on Internet infrastructure you likely don't understand

That form is a privacy violation in and of itself. Google is outright collecting information. The "How we use your information" blurb also seems very disingenuous:

"The name that you give may be published publicly as part of this website and discussion. Your specified country and other location information may be used to display the vibrant conversation across the world.Your email address may be used to send you updates on Internet policy initiatives."

Enough on the privacy violation thing though. I'm sure they'll collect all sorts of great information that they will publish that will become a treasure trove for the very same governments that Google wishes to suppress through this effort.

The bigger issue is the lack of presenting information about the ITU. The first piece of "information" the user is presented with is a YouTube video (with lousy background music) that presents ZERO information and people saying the same thing over and over. Every good piece of journalism covers the 5 'W's: Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How). If this is a serious enough problem that The People have to get involved, there needs to be more than pretty pictures, a one-sided perspective, and limited information on the topic. I want to see in-depth, thought-provoking videos covering all sides. I want to see well-written literature on the subject. What I don't want to see is a zero-day link to suddenly make Internet citizens aware of issues at stake but providing nothing useful. I want good information at my fingertips and time to mull things over and form my own opinion - not force-fed one.

There are three links at the bottom of Google's page (AFTER the form where we are supposed to part with personal information) that take you away from Google to various concerned websites. These websites are effectively in favor of stopping the proceedings at the ITU with more fairly vague messaging but they contain more information than the main Google page. If what is on Google's site represents the limits of this topic, those three links should have been first on the page! Education first, "feel-good" garbage later.

Also, I don't see how Google plans to stop a meeting of this scale that will begin tomorrow. Google: Are you going to go all Rambo and go into the meeting with guns a-blazin'? What exactly CAN you do? This reeks more of "Let's have a pity party" rather than, "If we can get a billion signatures, we're going to go kick butt. And here's how..." (With the "How", there's that pesky journalism thing rearing its head again.) It appears to me that Google is in the same boat as everyone else concerned - they can't do anything except bring awareness. Google lacks teeth on such issues as this.

Google's primary focus with this effort seems to be about freedom. Let me tell you something about freedom: Freedom is not given freely. It is first earned through simple logic. When simple logic fails, it is earned through hard work and sweat within the existing legal framework so as to not become a stench to a government that said government feels the need to eliminate. When all else fails and all previous avenues to obtain freedom have been exhausted, it is earned through tears and blood.

This is the first time in recent history that I can remember that the UN, of which the ITU is a UN agency, appears to actually want to do something useful and could actually affect real change in our world. Frankly, I'm for anything that tears the iron grip of ICANN from within U.S. borders to a more International space. We got SOPA/PIPA because ICANN resides within U.S. control and therefore, ultimately, the entire Internet infrastructure upon which the web relies (DNS) is also controlled by U.S. interests. If that control transfers to the UN, not only does it give the UN a set of real teeth, it will reduce and possibly eliminate future SOPA/PIPA-like efforts by our own government - they'll have to take the issue to the UN and have to have real talks with other governments. This is just one likely bit of discussion that will take place at the ITU meeting. If anything, I'm surprised to see Google being against this. They are against SOPA/PIPA, but then turn around and are against this ITU meeting. It is hypocritical to take such a stance.

The bigger discussion that needs to take place is whether or not a government has the right to unplug the Internet or portions thereof for its Citizens. The Internet is intimately tied to our daily lives anymore. Whenever I experience an outage, I find myself expressing mild frustration at common tasks becoming significantly more difficult. This discussion and decisions need to be made and agreed upon at the International level given the recent Internet blackouts for entire nations over the past year.

The only issue perhaps with this meeting is that ITU meetings are closed to the public. All discussions are secret and all decisions are as well. This has advantages and disadvantages. When secret discussions and decisions are made and members know they are secret and what they discuss will be held in the utmost confidentiality, things that normally wouldn't be said will be more openly discussed. That infamous, Treasonous document known as the Declaration of Independence was formed behind closed doors in secret. Each member was at significant risk of not only being hung or drawn and quartered for Acts of Treason, but their families as well. Okay, so this is a little different, but governments have a right to run their country how they see fit and the UN is a different sort of beast altogether. Something Google apparently has forgotten. The fact that the UN can draw representatives of all nations together into a single room to make decisions is nothing short of impressive. We also have to realize that these are people at this meeting, not robots, usually very intelligent, representing their nation's best interest and already understand that both the immediate and distant future are at stake. Countries don't send dumb people to these sort of meetings. I except rational heads will prevail and decisions will be made that affect all in a positive manner. Compromise is an ugly, but necessary, word: Compromise occurs when no single party walks away thrilled with the outcome. If compromise is the outcome of this meeting of the ITU, then it will have been a successful meeting.

One thing that irritates me to no end is American bravado. "Hey, look at our model of government. We're the best!" We encourage change within other governments and political structures because we've found something that seems to work better, but I only remember that the way to where the United States is today was paved with blood and sacrifice. Oh how easily we forget! It takes a culturally insensitive Person to have a blatant disregard for other cultures and try to force your culture onto them. This effort by Google is really one such demonstration. It is wholly inappropriate and has a very knee-jerk reaction feel to it. I can easily see this effort as being rather offensive to other cultures.

One of the main sticking points with most of the arguments against this meeting seems to be that the Internet was the brainchild of and run by scientists and engineers with the implication that it is still run by those people. That was true at one time, but as soon as e-commerce became a reality, that power was taken away by business interests and therefore such an argument is no longer relevant. The Internet is thriving today because of businesses, not scientists, engineers, and/or educational institutions. Actually, if you want to look at it from that perspective, "Internet2" is a closed network only available to a very limited audience of those same folks that the opponents of this meeting of the ITU are defending. Either the opponents of this meeting don't know about Internet2 (really?) or have conveniently and hypocritically forgotten for the purpose of grabbing attention. Also, the Internet was effectively developed in secret without your input (oh noes!) and really just involved cobbling together a bunch of technology to create it and was pretty pathetically haphazard in its initial construction. Also relevant: You get spam in your in-box because scientists and engineers can't make decisions (See: SMTP and the IETF).

I saw a comment on one of the videos I watched saying that the ITU is 20 years too late to the game regarding the Internet. However, the ITU is right on time. Sure the basis of Internet technology was developed many years ago, but the issues including whether or not a government can pull the plug on the Internet for its Citizens is actually very current and relevant. The ITU is stepping in during an important time of upheaval surrounding the complex topic of communication across the Internet and doing the job tasked of them to do. The UN is in place to avoid wars and major issues between nations and to provide an environment in which to facilitate peaceful discussions and decisions wherever possible and using whatever means are necessary to make an inviting environment for the nations of the world. If the only way the ITU can conduct its operations, for which it has been tasked, is in secret - that is, the only way that countries like Egypt, Syria, and China will come to the same proverbial table as the U.S. (and each other) - then so be it. The issues at stake are too big to just ignore and opponents don't have an alternative solution that brings every nation of the world together other than, "Let's let the scientists and engineers figure it out." Maybe that will be the decision for some of the issues on the table! Lo and behold, intelligent individuals meeting together and coming up with workable solutions to big problems.

What I'm ultimately getting at is that I don't mind if Google presents important issues before the Internet community BUT only as long as they also have reasonable journalistic integrity in the process. This effort isn't even close. The only thing that could be a problem is the closed nature of the ITU, which appears, on a surface-level through the American filter, to be a backwards way of doing things. However, that is generally not how the world nor the UN works. Do your own research on this topic and what is before the ITU and come to your own conclusions. Okay, sure I might not be 100% accurate on what I've written here, but at least it is more informative and represents real thought on the subject matter at hand rather than the hand-waving, feel-good-but-please-panic, "ZOMG the Internets are at risk" effort that Google threw together.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Google is being incredulously disingenuous with its latest homepage campaign. You should be outraged.

I don't normally blog on this blog, mostly because I haven't quite figured out what to do with it.  At least until today.  Now I know - take large companies to task for things the general public won't be outraged about but should be.

Google frequently puts things onto its homepage that get a lot of attention and traffic.  Today, I woke up and found a link that says, "'Tis the season. Google supports organizations that are changing the world."  I clicked the link and read through the text on the page:

"At Google, philanthropy is a core value. This year we gave more than $100 million to various organizations around the world -- including $40 million in grants that celebrate the giving season by supporting four causes that we consider particularly important: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; girls' education; empowerment through technology; and fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
We invite you to celebrate the giving season along with us by learning about these organizations, the great work they're doing, and how you can support them."

Only $100 million?  And, if you look at where they clearly spend the money and do even a modest amount of research, you can quickly pick out where Google's heart actually is.  So, let's do some math:

First, Google made $8.5 billion in profit last year.  Even if they only made half that this year, that is $4 billion.  Most of us can't fathom what that even looks like.  $100 million is a drop in that bucket or somewhere between 1.1% to 2.5%.  Again, a number most of us can't fathom.  But, put in perspective, this is only barely philanthropic - if that term can even be used.

But now let's compare that to one of the most generous charitable organizations in the world:  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Suspiciously started right around the same time the two got married as the Bill Gates Foundation, I'm pretty sure Melinda is the reason for the organization's existence (Bill Gates brought the money, Melinda brought the heart).  The organization is required, by law, to give $1.5 billion annually, aka 5%, to maintain their charitable status.  Notice, I don't use the word philanthropy here either but I consider this far closer to philanthropy than Google's pathetic attempt at it.

Alright, now let's move onto a different angle:  The organizations supported.  There are really only three groups:  Technology/Science, Educating girls on AIDS/HIV, and Slavery.  The majority of the focus of funding is clearly the first group with the latter two as an apparent afterthought.  Of the three groups, there is only one that actually matters in this world and it is the last one in the list.  Google says they will free 12,000 slaves this year.  At the same time, Google is clearly thinking, "Slaves build our technology cheaply, so why should we free them?"  And the girls end up getting AIDS/HIV due to poor conditions that will, in many cases, be a result of slavery (even if it is of a mental slavery variety).

AIDS/HIV is just one of several rather nasty infectious diseases.  Google had the opportunity to "diversify their portfolio" and target Cholera, Typhoid fever, other Diarrhoeal diseases, Tuberculosis (#2 killer infectious disease), Malaria (#3 killer infectious disease), and Influenza.  But Google only went for the politically-charged disease.

There are 27 million slaves in the world constructing our cozy lifestyle.  That coffee you are drinking as you read this was probably created with child slave labor (unless you paid $8+/lb for real "Fair Trade" coffee).  Or maybe you just took a bite out of a piece of chocolate - feel free to imagine that the bitterness comes from a different child's tears in miserable conditions after having been taken from their family for mere pennies (if even that).  12,000 slaves freed is a pathetic 0.04%.  Google clearly isn't interested in freeing slaves other than to look good.  Now you too see through the facade.  Ironically, we are still slave owners and violating the original goals behind the 13th Amendment - we've merely and conveniently moved our slaves to other countries and a couple of management levels down - so nothing has changed - out of sight, out of mind, but at what cost?

I support organizations that make a real, lasting difference in our world.  I do my own research to find organizations with low overhead (roughly 10% - any lower and there is trouble - too much higher and there will be inefficiencies), have a solid, well-communicated strategy that makes sense and scales well, the strategy is cost-efficient and will last multiple lifetimes (i.e. no repeating), and matches what my heart tells me is the right thing to do.  If Google truly cared, they would look for organizations that solve real problems by looking at the root cause of the problems and finding organizations that have identified the same root cause and have a working solution in place that meets similar criteria.

While I don't have the financial means to give $100 million, I also don't make a big fuss about my giving either nor attempt to mislead people by saying I'm philanthropic (I'm not).  It is great Google gives a small portion of their money to improve some people's lives but they aren't philanthropic.  This is a clever, calculated business venture.  I don't see anything more than that and neither should you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chase "Ultimate Rewards" rips you off if you aren't careful...

If you are a Chase customer and participate in their "Ultimate Rewards" program via one of their credit cards, you should be really careful about redeeming your points. I was in their store today just to see what they had to offer and ran across this:

I don't know why Chase opts for "points" other than it means there is an extra step to conversion. But they offer a "cash for points" method that shows what "points" map to in terms of real dollars. It turns out that $1 USD = 100 points. 2,900 points is $29 USD and 4,800 points is $48 USD.

A "Most Popular" section in an online store typically means a lot of people are buying that item. But that means that there are a lot of people out there spending $48 USD on a single copy of the Blu-Ray version of Toy Story 3 (currently $20 on! I guess people just don't realize it would be better to get the cash and then buy the movie themselves. This only helps confirm what I've suspected ever since the forced switch to points - "Ultimate Rewards" are for Chase, not their customers.

Cold hard cash is the only useful form of value. Points are useless to everyone except to sleazy marketing/sales departments who came up with a way to obscure money by requiring an extra layer of knowledge. Knowing $1 USD is 100 points is knowledge most people won't go to the effort to determine. Therefore, unsuspecting people who think they must be getting a good deal get ripped off.