Tag Archives: privacy

“Dying for a Facelift: Google China’s Holy Joe Yammering”

face lift

Google is good at most things.  Losing is not one of them.  Neither is consistency.  The fight erupted over Google’s mid-December 2009 allegations that the Chinese government had been trying to hack into the gmail accounts of human rights activists; that it had been snooping on a variety of gmail account holders that supported Chinese human rights advocacy and that it had stolen Google intellectual property.  Beefing up its firepower, Google also claimed on its blogspot, that it was very concerned about “attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web…”.  In response, “We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn… this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”  So far so good. The web was atwitter singing the virtues of Google’s ballsy defiance of the rising superpower.

On January 12, China Digital Times reported that as news spread that Google was considering leaving the country, Chinese citizens brought flowers to Google China’s headquarters in Beijing.   Salon.com comments, “According to a tweet from “jason5ng32,” the action caught the attention of security forces, who promptly coined a new phrase: “illegal flower donation.” You can’t do much better than that, if you’re looking for a metaphor that expresses the Chinese government’s resolve to control freedom of expression — in any medium.”  Google fans were raiding Kleenex boxes, dabbing big tears of pride and admiration from their puffy faces.

But the further you dug, the less you were impressed.  The conversation changed when you took notice of the fact that Google had agreed to censoring by the Chinese government way back when it started Google.cn back in 2006.  “Yes, the Chinese government required that Google censor some of its search results in exchange for doing business legally in the country, and yes, Google’s acquiescence of those restrictions have made it a target of activists all over the world,” states a January 13 Slate.com article. Google’s new fuss about the restrictions on free speech in China lost steam as it tried to justify its 2006 decision by stating, “a more open Internet (courtesy of Google.cn) outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results.”

Google China lost even more of its moral high ground when the fact emerged that, contrary to its overall global trends, it had recently been losing search engine market share (down from 19% in the second quarter of 2009 to 17% in the third) in China. Also, Baidu, a Chinese search engine, was giving Google a humiliating spanking as it towered over the self-assured global giant in Chinese market share.  Now Google’s Holy Joe posturing was making sense.  It was not simply a reaction to cyber scuffles and censorship… this was good, old fashioned face saving.

Google’s threat of retreat was even more undestandable when you considered that, especially in Europe, there are currently huge privacy concerns in regards to the Internet giant’s services.  In ForeignPolicy.com, Evegeny Morozov argued that Google needed a PR boost and that, “Google.cn is the goat that would be sacrificed, for it will generate most positive headlines and may not result in devastating losses to Google’s business…”

In “Soul Searching:  Google’s Position on China might be many things, but moral it is not”, TechCrunch.com is not ashamed to take sides, “Taking a moral position four years too late – whether you’re the first or the last to do so – is like suddenly declaring that you oppose the Iraq war now you’re no longer standing for the Senate or renouncing your own steroid abuse once you’ve retired from professional sports. Which is to say, it’s taking no moral position at all.”  Nuff said.

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Bjorn Karlman

Pulling the plug on (communication with) grandma

love in any language
love in any language

This summer ultra right-wing spin masters crisscrossed the US, spouting sensationalist garbage about Obama’s healthcare plan and organizing America’s lunatic fringe for circus-style mayhem at Town Hall meetings. One of the more charming claims made was that somehow healthcare reform was going to allow the government to “pull the plug on grandma.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, who first made the comment regarding the government’s potential future role in end-of-life decisions, later retracted it. But like Joe the Plumber, the expression stuck around. The mention of grandparents struck an emotional cord with people. We want them around. But as much as we value older family members it seems that most of us do precious little in the way of communicating with them. What’s to blame? Busy schedules? Misaligned priorities? Or is the real evil… social media?

I typed in one simple question into my Facebook status today: “Are your parents on Facebook?” Comments ranged from “my parents are old school eastern Euros…they type with one finger…so your answer is no” to “Mum is a super user… AND my 80 yr old grandmother!” I got 23 comments total.

The general trend was surprising to me: Most of my friends had at least one parent that was on Facebook even if they were subscribed, as one person put it, “only as a lurker.” Keep in mind that most of the respondents were in their late 20s or 30s and had parents that are or are pushing, grandma age.

Facebook reported this year that the fastest growing demographic of users was over 35 (http://bit.ly/7CMGd). Even more significantly, the fastest growing subset of this larger group of people over 35 is women over 55 (http://bit.ly/173ReU). That’s right, grandma has invaded Facebook. Trends such as these may be part of the reason one of my friends’ responses was, “My dad is (on Facebook) and he keeps trying to friend my friends. I will not friend him. You have to draw the line somewhere!”

LifeTips blogger Jamison Cush said, “Conventional teen wisdom: once your parents embrace something, it is no longer cool. So, inspired by a recent Facebook friend request from my mother, I am boldly declaring on this blog that Facebook is so over.” This kind of logic may be indulged for comic effect, but there is truth to it. As much as I want to stay in touch with my retirement-age parents, I don’t want them sifting through my Vegas pictures. And I will think twice about social media that allows them to do so.

Is it just time to admit that cross-generational communication is a touchier area than we give it credit for? Trying to do what we’ve failed to do in face-to-face communication across an age gap isn’t going to get easier because grandma now knows how to post bingo pictures and, very disturbingly, friends your online buds that she finds attractive. You could try to remedy the issue through heart-to-hearts over hot chocolate.

Or maybe just beef up your privacy settings.

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Bjorn Karlman