NET WORK

On the Tube

IT’S been said that the Internet is becoming more like the Wild West every day — it’s developed into quite an anarchic and lawless medium, where anything goes with barely a gun-toting Sheriff in sight. The web grew as a silo of information that lacked the instantaneous interactivity that its users craved. Facebook and Twitter came along at the right time, offering social networks that were superimposed onto the underlying world-wide web. Now users could post their own daily experiences, images or thoughts, direct from a mobile phone app, to enlighten their friends or the public at large.

YouTube is part of a web surfer’s staple diet, and a quick search for favourite music (for example) will soon suggest videos of long-lost music tracks with links to more of the same; so it’s easy to immerse oneself in YouTube for a little while. So-called ‘personalised recommendations’ are all about second-guessing what they think will appeal to you, so whether it’s a YouTube movie or an eBay product based on your recent browsing history or personal profile, it seems like the entire Internet wants to develop an artificial intelligence and get inside your mind.

As YouTube is owned by Google, it’s leveraged by the Internet-marketing industry in order to enhance a website’s search engine rankings, so it’s not surprising that a vast commercial presence has rushed to get itself online too. Thanks to cookie technology, many websites get to know that you have visited a particular website and they themselves spawn an array of adverts based on your recent history: absolutely every website that I visit (including YouTube) is currently displaying an image of the new office chair that I bought online more than a week ago. In fact I’m sitting in it!

Google makes its money by offering free services such as email, search or YouTube, and then it proceeds to monetise them with advertising. Gmail spawns context-sensitive adverts and YouTube videos often lead with an advert that can be dismissed after a few seconds. But it’s free, and that’s all that matters for many folks: strangely, everyone is becoming more aware of safeguarding their privacy online, but no-one seems to care that Google has ‘read’ their posts or private emails before battering them with contextual adverts.

Many enthusiasts from every corner of the world share their favourite videos online and YouTube is a goldmine of archived footage. A Google account is required to log in, and then it is straightforward to upload video from hard disk, mobile phone or webcam and all popular formats are supported. For movies more than 15 minutes long, additional user verification checks are undertaken. Although copyright-protected material such as music videos, TV programs or adverts should not be uploaded without permission, this stricture seems to be widely disregarded. YouTube has gained some notoriety for making it easy to upload videos of bullying, harassment, violent behaviour and other forms of abuse. It’s possible to enable ‘Safety Mode’ to help protect users from seeing that kind of material, but it’s not 100% reliable. The Report Abuse link is at http://www.youtube. com/reportabuse and the Contact page lists ways in which such content can be handled, see http://www.youtube.com/t/ contact_us. Such is the influence of YouTube on younger or more impressionable users that YouTube even claims to work with suicide prevention agencies to reach out to vulnerable individuals whose videos have been ‘flagged’ or reported.

Footage galore

For typical EPE readers, hobbyists and radio enthusiasts of all ages, YouTube has much to offer and I’ve selected just a few that you might find appealing. Fascinating videos include the manufacture of thermionic valves by Mullard at http:// bit.ly/14DIDak. Or there’s a 1943 vintage Westinghouse video called ‘Electronics at work’, see http://bit.ly/12mxyGj. A wonderfully evocative 1967 video produced by Fairchild Semiconductors was uploaded at http://bit.ly/la6mwLR which in 30 minutes describes the design and manufacture of those new-fangled integrated circuits — with not a hairnet nor static-safe handling in sight! Linux users will appreciate the documentary relating the origins of Linux on http://bit.ly/l5rsIN7 presented by Linus Torvalds, and Unix users might enjoy http://bit.ly/157KgeY from the AT&T Archives. Windows users might chuckle at Steve Balmer introducing Windows 1.0 at http://bit.ly/l5rsPbG and Mac users will appreciate Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone in 2007 at http://bit.ly/la6mXpf (Part 1) and Part 2 at http://bit. ly/l3Gdcy8 — search YouTube for subsequent parts. Part 1 of a Steve Jobs and Bill Gates interview (search for more) is at http:// bit.ly/laT6XKg which was a gentlemanly get-together.

Apart from searching for topics, you can also search Youllibe by location or contributor or any other keyword. For example, you can see a summary of all of Microchip Technology’s YouTube videos at http://www.youtube.com/ user/MicrochipTechnology.

If you have a camcorder, it doesn’t take much to put together a video of a subject that’s dear to you, and YouTube will stream HD if the video was made in that format. For many, YouTube becomes an important part of their hobby or interest. On my Smart TV I saw a YouTube video of my local church bells being rung, which was a marvellous insight into a 1,000-year-old church tower. YouTube material often gives a new insight and is crammed with contributors eager to share their knowledge with you. So, if you want some practical advice, or check some reviews, news clips, nostalgic TV ads or much more besides, head over to YouTube to get a new perspective on your search experience.

A Streetview Named Desire

Google is now in the hot-seat as regards its own privacy rules, which they updated to make them more relevant to Google’s myriad of online services, including user tracking and advertising. The search giant is doubtless trembling at the thought of legal action from the UK’s Information Commissioner, who states that ‘the update of [Google’s] privacy policy… raises serious questions about its compliance with the UK Data Protection Act. In particular, we believe that the updated policy does not provide sufficient information to enable UK users of Google’s services to understand how their data will be used across all of the company’s products. Google must now amend their privacy policy to make it more informative for individual service users… Failure to [improve] compliance with the Data Protection Act by 20 September will leave the company open to the possibility of formal enforcement action.’

Google does many things because it can. Google’s 3D road panorama Streetview has found very many practical uses, as well as enabling Internet users to nosey around a neighbourhood from the comfort of their own homes or mobile phones. Thieves or burglars can likewise check out their intended targets remotely. However, privacy issues have long been of great concern to ordinary citizens. In the case of Streetview, Google will state, disingenuously in my opinion, that its camera cars are doing nothing wrong because anybody can walk the route and see for themselves anything that’s in public view from the highway. Yet their panoramic cameras stick their noses over garden fences and hedges, and pry into people’s gardens. Number plates are recognised and automatically pixelated — usually. Google narrowly escaped a fine from the UK ICO because their cars slurped Wi-Fi data as they trundled around. It was fined $7 million (about an hour’s earnings) in the USA and a risible €145,000 in Germany for the same reason.

A recent and very British thing happened in a Salisbury’s supermarket recently when, it was reported, a checkout operator refused to serve a customer who was busy talking on her mobile phone. This sparked a national TV and radio debate about showing respect and displaying general civility to one’s fellow man. Many observers thought the checkout clerk was justified in her action, although the reverse situation, when the checkout operator is too busy gossiping to colleagues or another customer while ignoring the paying customer completely, is also common enough, so it works both ways.

Searching for Glass

How will Sainsbury’s checkout staff — or anyone else for that matter — manage when Google’s latest innovation breaks cover? Google Glass is a forthcoming wearable computer in the form of sci-fi-style spectacles with a difference: it sports a miniature image projector that shines a head-up display onto a lens. Currently only intended for the USA, it offers audio through a bone-conduction transducer, 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatibility, alluding to the need to pair with an Android mobile phone to get GPS and SMS functionality. It can surf the web and memory is synced with Google Cloud.

Glass has a built-in forward-facing 5MP camera that also shoots 720p video. The entire design is currently undergoing trials, but to give an idea of what Google has in mind, early screenshots showed a simplified sat.nav type display on a lens with on-screen guidance built in; voice recognition of commands such as ‘take a picture’ or ‘record a video’ or reading a message; a Siri-type service where you ask Google simple questions in plain English and the answer is shown on-screen. Through its Internet connectivity it will offer video conferencing or translations or beam airport travel data directly to your head-up display, or send live footage while you view the recipient in your display, webcam style. Google Glass updates itself automatically and a range of Glass apps is promised. An early video impression of how Glass looks and feels is at http://www.google.com/glass/ start/how-it-feels/ Glass will doubtless challenge the rules of common courtesy and etiquette even more. Every pub and restaurant is crammed with people who spend more time looking at their phones than looking at their guests or workmates. Although it’s becoming the norm to behave that way, if you’re talking to a Google Glass wearer then how will you know that you have their attention, or are they secretly googling online or reading their text messages instead? How rude will a Glass wearer seem to the uninitiated? How do you know you’re not being secretly filmed (perhaps with live footage being transmitted without anybody’s consent)?

It’s a sign of things to come when on the day that I wrote this, a world first was reported when a Glass tester/wearer captured on video a fist-fight and subsequent arrest in New Jersey, and he decided to … upload the video to YouTube. Like Streetview, Glass will push the boundaries, and many new privacy implications are now arising for which there are currently no answers.

I hope you enjoyed reading this month’s Net Work. You can email the author at alan@epemag.demon.co.uk or write to the editor at editorial@wimborne.co.uk for possible inclusion in Readout, and you could win a valuable prize!

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