Who’s Censoring Whom?

Posted October 7th, 2011 at 9:54 pm (UTC-4)
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And Why Digital Storage May Not Be Forever

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Periodically we like to share a few of the stories and posts from across the web that caught our eye.  There are no editorial threads implied connecting these items together, other than being interesting.

#1: Who’s Censoring Whom? The Brookings Institute think tank has just issued a report probing which governments around the world were interfering with their citizens’ Internet activities, and how they were doing it.  While the results paint a mixed picture, study authors clearly suggest that web manipulation is not just a tactic used by totalitarian regimes.

The report, titled “The Dictator’s Dilemma,” documents 606 examples where governmental agencies somehow manipulated national Internet traffic.  These ranged from limiting access to specific sites or services, to deploying large-scale firewalls, to tactics that have become more popular since the Arab Spring uprisings: launching denial-of-service attacks on opposition groups, spying on people’s traffic, or pulling the plug on the Internet completely.  Of those cases, 45% were initiated by governments considered established or emerging democracies, while 52% were launched by authoritarian regimes.  Worse, while totalitarian governments interfered more often, a larger number of democratic nations did so.   Write the authors:  “We find that overall more democracies participate in network interventions than authoritarian regimes.  However, authoritarian regimes conduct shutdowns with greater frequency.”

It’s a thick report, meaning the results don’t always lend themselves to quick summary or easy characterization.  But as a reality on who’s doing what out there, it’s a good read.


#2: Got A Second?  Take a Poll!: With the spread of small, wireless devices, it’s becoming more common for people to be using two, three or more gadgets at the same time.  Annoyingly common, if you ask some.  Manners aside, it’s less surprising to see someone watching a sporting event on TV, blogging about the game on their laptop and tweeting score updates to friends on their smart phone, now more than ever.

It’s exactly for this sort of multi-tasker that the new application “Wayin” was made.  Now available for iPhone and Android platforms, Wayin allows users to make their own polls about any topic they choose; for example, the latest baseball playoff game.

These polls can be immediately shared with groups small or large, from just your friends to anyone watching the game on TV, and give people a social way to connect and share their opinions – briefly – in real time.  It only takes a few moments, and that’s by design.

Wayin is still a small start-up company based in Colorado, but it’s getting some impressive help.  Scott NcNealy, co-founder of the now acquired giant Sun Microsystems, is on board as a consultant.  That alone makes Wayin worth a second look, especially by those businesses wanting to harness social media for their own uses.  Writes Ina Fried over at AllThingsD, the Wall Street Journal‘s free tech blog:

“Wayin plans to make money by inserting sponsored polls into a user’s stream. For advertisers, it’s a way to get instant feedback on their products and ideas. Polls could even be tied into the very commercials running in the sporting or other live event being commented on.  ‘It’s explicit market research,’ McNealy said. ‘There is no inference required.'”

Well, that’s comforting.


Image courtesy photos.com

#3: When Forever Doesn’t Last:  There’s a sort of magic about digital archiving.  Rather than hectares of books on shelves, or rows of film cans and dusty records, once content is digitized, it can be stored almost anywhere in a fraction of the space.  Even better, access can be almost instantaneous: with a few mouse clicks, you might be able to watch your old home movies, listen to a song from your music library, or read PDF versions of old letters sent by your forebears.   And, assuming your hard drive doesn’t crash, they should last forever, right?

Wrong.  Beyond the wildly optimistic assumption of never having a drive crash – as they saying goes, ‘There’s only two types of hard drives: those that have failed and those that will‘ – digitized media isn’t meant to be permanent.  VOA’s Dave Deforest recently took a look into how long all those old VHS tapes you laboriously upgraded to DVDs can be expected to last, and learned some surprising answers.  Short answer: if you’re not re-recording your content onto new storage platforms at least once every five years, you run the risk of losing precious documents.

But all is not lost – or won’t be, if you read through some of the other helpful suggestions he and the Library of Congress offer to help keep your content current.  Best advice: don’t put it off.  If you want to keep something, back it up in at least two locations.

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