February 11 – 17, 2013

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This week’s headline story: The drones are coming! The drones are coming!

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 10.31.31 AMRemote controlled drone aircraft, that can carry video cameras and other sensors, are empowering tools for law enforcement, news agencies, and other industries in the U.S.. Law enforcement authorities say drones can be a cost-effective technology to help with a host of policing efforts, including locating bombs, finding lost children, monitoring weather and wildlife or assisting rescue workers in natural disasters. While that may be true, drones have also given rise to fears of government surveillance. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington calls drones “a concrete and instantly graspable threat to privacy.”

Public concern over drones is prompting local and state lawmakers across the country to develop laws restricting their use or grounding them altogether. In Seattle, Mayor Michael McGinn answered public protests by banning the use of drones. Last week, members of Congress introduced a bill that would prohibit drones from conducting what it called “targeted surveillance” of individuals and property without a warrant. The Federal Aviation Administration has received about 80 requests from police, government agencies and others, for clearance to fly drones. Consumer grade drones that can carry video cameras or iPhones are available for less than $400 from companies like HeliPal. No doubt we will be hearing a lot regarding drones and privacy over the course of the year.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • Google has prided itself on being able to track the spread of the flu virus based in information that it mines from user search and social media data. But this year, Google’s projection was off… way off. Google predicted nearly twice as many flu cases as actually occurred. Analysts suspect that the widespread media coverage of the flu, caused many more flu-related searches, and online conversations, throwing a monkey wrench in Google’s algorithm. These results serve to caution researches about the dangers of drawing scientific conclusions from online interactions.
    When Google got flu wrong [Nature]
  • President Obama’s State of the Union address featured a record number of references to technology, suggesting that technical innovation is the key to U.S. economic recovery and global leadership. The president referenced a number of technologies including Macs, 3-D printing, drugs to regenerate damaged organs, new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful, wind energy, solar energy, technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner, high-speed rail, high-speed Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids, and modern pipelines to withstand a storm, to name a few.
    Obama: Technology Will Save the Country [TechReview]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • In the wake of cyberattacks against major news and media agencies, the big anti-virus companies have been forced to admit that their tools are insufficient against today’s most serious attacks. When it comes to so-called advanced persistent threats, Symantec says that “antivirus software alone is not enough.” Zero day viruses, those that are brand new and not guarded against by antivirus software, require more sophisticated methods of detection. New companies like FireEye are developing new techniques to battle these types of viruses and cyberattacks. Meanwhile, as the President presents technology as the savior of the economy, others wonder if technology might not be our downfall.
    Targeted Hacking Forces a New Reality on Antivirus Companies [TechReview]
  • President Obama has signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to share cyberthreat information with private companies and to develop standards to secure companies that provide the nation’s critical infrastructure.
    Obama signs cybersecurity order [Computerworld]
  • Facebook has reported that its network was breached by sophisticated hackers around the same time frame that Twitter, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others made similar admissions. Facebook has not found any evidence that Facebook user data was compromised. Both Facebook and Twitter were breached through a well-publicized vulnerability in Oracle’s Java software.

    Facebook Says Hackers Breached Its Computers [NYTimes]

  • Microsoft had a huge patch Tuesday this month: 12 security bulletins to fix a whopping 57 vulnerabilities, including five critical issues. The updates require several system reboots prompting security analysts to classify this month’s Patch Tuesday as “disruptive.”

    Microsoft Unleashes a Mammoth, ‘Disruptive’ Patch Tuesday [News Factor]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • In the U.S. smartphones currently make up roughly 80 percent of new phone sales, and roughly half the phone-carrying public use smartphones. However, in poorer countries smartphones have been priced out of reach, leaving most of the global population using feature phones. Now, with smartphone prices coming down, the global population is gradually switching over. Research firm Gartner is projecting that by the end of the year, smartphones will outsell feature phones world wide.
    Gartner: Smartphones To Outsell Feature Phones this Year [NewsFactor]

and finally….

  • Microsoft has purchased a Los Angeles television studio to produce original interactive television content for the Xbox. The new Xbox Entertainment Studios is a 125-employee production studio being led by former CBS Television President Nancy Tellem.
    Microsoft Seeks to Boost Xbox Claim on the Living Room [Newsfactor]

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February 4 – 10, 2013

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This week’s headline story: FCC Proposes Robust National Wi-fi Networks

Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 10.28.09 AMThe Federal Communications Commission is proposing the creation of free, powerful Wi-Fi networks that could dramatically change wireless access to the Internet in the U.S. The plan would be the first of its kind for any country. Compared with existing Wi-Fi networks, the FCC networks would have greater penetration through walls and over hills, would be able to travel much further, and would make Wi-Fi available throughout virtually every city and many rural areas. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that “freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future, and benefits consumers.” As you might guess, the proposal is raising strong objections from the existing wireless carriers and cable operators.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • The Amber Alert system, designed to notify citizens of child abductions, has been extended to cell phones. The next time a child is abducted near you, your cell phone ma y shriek to life with an alert text message. Amber Alert messages have already taken tens of thousands of people by surprise. There is concern that, while the system is useful in catching abductors, the messages sent to cell phones are vague on details. One Amber Alert message stated “Emergency Alert: Amber Alert. An Amber Alert has been issued in your area. Please check local media. “FEMA officials said they are aware of the confusion the Amber Alerts have caused and are working with the U.S. Department of Justice to include more information in the text messages.
    Shriek! Texts on Missing Kids Startle Cell Users [NewsFactor]
  • The Federal Trade Commission has released a major report on mobile privacy in which it makes a number of recommendations to the industry. A key recommendation is that companies consider offering a Do Not Track mechanism for smartphone users, so that users could choose to opt out of having their path through apps or the Web reported to ad networks or other third parties.
    FTC Tackles Mobile Privacy with New Report [NewsFactor]
  • The use of social media during the Super Bowl was up significantly this year. Trendrr reports that there were 47.67 million instances of social-media engagement during the game this year, up from 17.4 million last year, and only 3.1 million in 2011.
    Super-Social Engagement Set Record for Super Bowl [NewsFactor]
  • The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, have found that 69 percent of online adults use some kind of social networking site like Facebook, compared with 47 percent in September 2009. It also discovered that 61 percent of current Facebook users say they have felt the need to take periodic long breaks away from Facebook.
    Need to Take a Break from Facebook? You’re Not Alone [NewsFactor]
  • Cisco is predicting that mobile data traffic will increase 13-fold over the next four years as more and more devices become connected.Cisco Predicts 13-Fold Mobile Data Traffic Increase by 2017 [NewsFactor]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • After recent reports of China-based cyber-attacks against The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Department of Energy told employees in an e-mail that its systems, too, had been infiltrated.
    Energy Dept. Reportedly Latest Target of Hackers [NewsFactor]
  • Twitter has admitted that 250,000 of its user accounts may have been hacked last week. “This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident,” said Bob Lord, Twitter’s director of Information Security, writing in a blog post. “The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked.”
    Twitter Hack ‘Not the Work of Amateurs’ [NewsFactor]
  • A hacker broke into several e-mail accounts belonging to friends and family of former President George W. Bush. A wealth of personal photos, correspondence, home addresses, and other sensitive information were exposed on the website The Smoking Gun. The intrusions have prompted a criminal investigation, according to published reports.
    Bush family privacy shattered after e-mails, photos exposed online
    [Ars Technica]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • It looks as though Blackberry is hoping to gain market share by taking a stance to protect its user’s privacy. The company has begun issuing notices to application developers — and consumers — anytime it finds an app approved for distribution in its BlackBerry World online store that collects more data than users might think. Blackberry’s new phones running it’s latest OS are expected to be available in the US around mid-March.
    Sneaky Apps Beware: BlackBerry Is Watching [NewsFactor]
    New BlackBerry Scheduled for Mid-March U.S. Release [NewsFactor]
  • Amazon has received patent No. 8,364,595 for a “secondary market in digital objects.” The patent describe an electronic marketplace for used e-books, music, video, computer applications and other digital content. So soon, you may be able to sell your old, unwanted ebooks, digital music, movies, and apps on Amazon.
    Save Those Old Music Files, Content Markets Are Brewing [NewsFactor]
  • Industry researcher Canalys has released a new report which concludes that worldwide PC shipments have increased by 12 percent year-over-year for the fourth quarter. What’s unique about the report is that it includes tablets as PCs, while other similar reports that don’t include tablets conclude that the PC market is slowly drying up. So if tablets are PCs, then PCs are thriving and Apple is king.
    If Tablets Are PCs, PCs Are Thriving and Apple Is King [NewsFactor]
  • Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer is now available to U.S. consumers. The surface has a 10.6-inch screen and includes an optional Type Cover keyboard dock that doubles as a case. The tablet comes in models with 64GB and 128GB of storage, and runs the full version of Windows 8 – unlike its predecessor that runs the more limited Windows 8 RT.
    Microsoft Surface Pro goes on sale Saturday [Computerworld]
  • Sony is poised to unveil the next PlayStation game console on Feb. 20, a date that would give the Japanese electronics company a head start over Microsoft ‘s expected announcement of an Xbox 360 successor in June.
    New PlayStation Announcement To Trump Microsoft [NewsFactor]
  • Amazon has come up with it’s own form of currency: Amazon coins, and is using it to promote its Kindle Fire. The company plans to give Kindle Fire users tens of millions of dollars’ worth of free Amazon Coins to spend on apps in the Amazon Appstore. One Amazon Coin equals one penny of value. Who knows, perhaps perks will expand to purchases of other products on Amazon.
    Kindle Fire Users to Get Pennies From Heaven [ecommerce times]

and finally….

  • We often hear about private companies going pubic – for example Facebook’s initial public offering made headlines last year. We rarely hear about public companies going private. This week Michael Dell made headlines by signing a leveraged buyout agreement worth $24.4 billion, to purchase the company that he founded in his Texas dorm room. Roger Kay, senior analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, says that taking Dell private “will shelter the company from Wall Street while it makes its potentially ungraceful transformation from supplier of commodity PCs over to full-line enterprise solutions provider.” Microsoft is pitching in $2 Billion to help.
    A $24.4 Billion Bet on Dell’s Future [NewsFactor]
    Dell Hightails It Into Private Territory [Ecommerce Times]

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January 14 – 20, 2013

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This week’s headline story: Facebook Graph Search

facebook-graph-searchFacebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced a new feature coming to Facebook. It’s called Graph Search, and Zuckerberg described it as an integral part of the product, a third pillar, along with the newsfeed and timeline. Using Graph Search, Facebook users will be able to search all of their connections – what Facebook calls their graph, in order to find people, places, photos, and items of interests. So for example, a Facebook user could search for Mexican restaurants in Tucson recommended by friends, places in Ireland that their friends visited, or bands that are most popular with friends. Graph search will also provide search results outside your graph courtesy of Microsoft Bing. While some are proclaiming this the future of search, others are predicting major issues around privacy, and ugly unintended consequences. The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends that concerned Facebook users utilize the “Who can see my stuff?” feature and click “View as” to see how their Facebook profile and timeline appears to the public and to the various people in their groups of friends.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • You may recall a couple years ago when Kansas City MO won the privileged of serving as host to a new super-fast Internet service courtesy of Google. With that network now in place, Internet startups are flocking to Kansas City is take advantage of gigabit Internet speeds, giving the city the nickname “Silicon Prairie.”Google’s Ultrafast Internet Creates ‘Silicon Prairie’ [NewsFactor]
  • San Jose State University is signing a deal with the Massively Open Online Course company Udacity, to deliver a series of remedial and introductory courses to its students. San Jose State and other California State colleges are looking to MOOCs as a solution to the issue of an increasing number of incoming students who are unable to meet basic college entrance requirements.California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial [NYTimes]

and in Information Security news this week…

  • One year to the minute after the FBI shut down file sharing service Megaupload, the Internet tycoon that owned the service, Kim Dotcom, held a huge party at his mansion in New Zealand to celebrate the opening of his new service, simply named Mega. Mega is a cloud storage service that encrypts the data users upload giving the user the encryption key. So only the user, and those the user selects to share files with, can access files. Not even Mega knows or can find out what users are storing on its servers. Mega will force governments to seriously consider the level of responsibility Internet companies maintain for users activities on the Internet. It is likely that the movie industry and the FBI will be examining Mega closely to determine if the service is encouraging the illegal sharing of copyright protected property.A Year After the Closing of Megaupload, a File-Sharing Tycoon Opens a New Site [NYTimes]
  • Google researchers think that two-step identity verification isn’t secure enough. They are investigating the use of physical passwords, which might come in the form of a piece of jewelry such as a ring. Imagine being logged onto your computer and all of your web services automatically by the ring on your finger.Google sees one password ring to rule them all [Computerworld]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • AI expert and singularity evangelist Ray Kurzweil has taken the job of Director of Engineering at Google. Kurzweil has revealed details around an upcoming AI project at Google, focused on helping computers to better understand human language.Ray Kurzweil lifts lid on Google AI project [ZDNet]
  • Google is planning to bring it’s voice-recognition feature to Chrome browser. Soon users of Chrome on all platforms will be able to dictate to their Chrome browser and Web apps.Google Bringing Voice Recognition to Chrome Web Browser [NewsFactor]
  • Google has filed for a patent for a laser-projected keyboard on its Google Glasses which would project a keyboard on a surface allowing users to enter data by pressing virtual keys.Patent Filed for Laser-Projected Keypad with Google Glasses [NewsFactor]
  • Google is hosting two hackathons – one in San Francisco and the other in New York, where hackers will get a crack at creating apps for Google glasses.Google Glass Hackathons Unveiled to Further Develop the Technology [eWeek]
  • eBay received a much needed breath of life with its recently released mobile app. The app supports the popular activity of “showrooming” where shoppers in retail stores can check prices of items on eBay and make online purchases through eBay’s paypal service in under 30 seconds. eBay’s revenue jumped 18 percent to US$3.99 billion for the quarter after the release of the app.Showrooming Shoppers Send eBay Soaring [Ecommerce Times]

and finally….

Sponsored by:

Cell Phone Surveillance

In a recently released report, cell phone carriers say they respond to thousands of police requests per day asking for customer locations, text messages, and call details often times without warrants. Such requests totaled 1.3 million in 2011 – an alarming surge over 2010. Cell phone carriers have set up special legal teams to field law enforcement requests, in a time when laws governing such request are vague. AT&T created a team of over 100 workers to deal with the more than 250,000 subpeonas last year. Sprint reports receiving about half a million subpoenas last year. Verizon and T-Mobile report a 12 percent increase over 2011. Dealing with subpoenas has gotten so costly for carriers that they have begun charging law enforcement agencies for each record they turn over. AT&T collected nearly $8.3 million in fees last year. The revealing report was generated in response to a request from Massachusetts congressman Ed Markey.

Hand Over Your Facebook Password, Please!

Most of us know that employers check social networks as part of their background check for prospective employees. The Associated press is reporting that some government agencies and companies are now asking for Facebook usernames and passwords as part of the job interview process so they can check the applicants private profile page. Facebook is fighting against the practice by threatening to sue the companies involved for violating member privacy. The ACLU is fighting the practice as well and calling it an invasion of privacy.

The concern over employers asking job seekers for Facebook login credentials has grown this past week. Senators Richard Blumenthala and Charles Schumer called for a federal investigation into the new hiring practice. Numerous employers in New York City, Seattle, Washington, and elsewhere across the nation have begun demanding that job applicants turn over their Facebook and e-mail user names and passwords. With 8 percent unemployment, Blumenthal and Schumer say that such requests amount to a form of coercion “that could set a dangerous precedent.” “In an age where more and more of our personal information — and our private social interactions — are online, it is vital that all individuals be allowed to determine for themselves what personal information they want to make public,” Schumer said in a statement released Monday. “This is especially important during the job-seeking process, when all the power is on one side of the fence.” According to Blumenthal, a ban on such hiring practices is necessary to stop unreasonable and unacceptable invasions of privacy. “With few exceptions, employers do not have the need or the right to demand access to applicants’ private, password-protected information,” he said.

Want a Job? What’s Your Facebook Logon? [NewsFactor]
Senators Call for Probe Into Coercion of Facebook Logins [NewsFactor]

Facebook Files for IPO

After years of rumors and speculation, Facebook has finally filed for a public stock offering. Facebook plans to raise $5 billion in an initial public offering, or IPO. The price the stock fetches is anticipated to value Facebook at somewhere between $75 and $100 billion, making hundreds of Facebook employees instant millionaires.

Facebook’s annual profit of $1 billion in 2011 doesn’t actually support such a high valuation. Investors will be gambling on the value of the data Facebook collects on its over 800 million users. And a gamble it is, since privacy legislation at home or abroad could have a profound impact on what Facebook can do with the information it collects. As Facebook goes public, it will be under more pressure to increase profits, and is bound to push the limits of its user’s tolerance regarding privacy.

As Facebook goes public, it is obligated to disclose previously private information about how the company is run. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is clearly the man in charge at Facebook, and plans to continue being the primary decision-maker after the company goes public. He describes Facebook’s approach to product development as “The Hacker Way” – a process involving continuous improvement and iteration.

GPS Intrusions on the Rise

A slew of GPS devices designed to spy on people have become popular in recent months. Take for example the PTX5 Live GPS Tracker. It’s about the size of a deck of cards, and can be attached to the undercarriage of a car, or hidden inside a glove box or backpack to track an individual. Once switched on, the device can be tracked using a Web application which shows the device’s location on a map. GPS trackers have become an essential tool for private investigators. Some parents are using them to keep tabs on their teens, jealous partners are using them to keep track of their mates, and criminals are using them to track victims. Last week the Supreme Court found that while these devices may be gaining in popularity, they are not okay for use by law enforcement officers – at least not without a warrant. The courts findings overturns a case where a nightclub owner was sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking, since the conviction was based on GPS evidence linking him to the location where the drugs and money were stored.

Private Snoops Find GPS Trail Legal to Follow [NYTimes]

SOPA and PIPA Shelved

Two bills making their way through the House and Senate, intending to clamp down on Internet piracy, have run into a brick wall. PIPA (PROTECT Intellectual Property Act) is a bill in the Senate and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is in the House. Both originally intended to require Internet service providers, search engines, and online financial services to block Web sites that are suspected of distributing copyrighted material. Some feel that the bills represented the first major step towards government censorship of the Web.

Internet companies including Google, Microsoft, Wikipedia, Facebook, and many others have spoken out against the legislation, which is being driven by lobbyists from the Motion Picture Association, Recording Industry Association of America, and other IP owners. The tech companies fear that the legislation would alter the way that the Internet works, put Internet companies out of business, infringe on Internet freedom, and stifle innovation. Companies and legislators backing the bills believe that something must be done to reduce online piracy, which they say is responsible for eating away at media companies’ profits.

Last weekend, President Obama sided with the tech companies saying that the legislation should be shelved until it can address concerns over negative impact on the Internet. Over the course of the week many businesses, organizations, and individuals climbed on the anti-SOPA band wagon, which culminated in a Web blackout on Wednesday. Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress, and hundreds of smaller sites went black Wednesday, replacing their Websites with anti-SOPA rhetoric. By Thursday morning, the pressure became too much and the sponsors of the bills announced a surrender of sorts. With elections around the corner, bill supporters feared that this hot-potato item might ruin their chances for re-election. Once elections are over, it is likely that the two bills return in one form or another.

2011 in Retrospect

Goodbye Steve

Perhaps the story that garnered the most attention this year was the death of Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Jobs transformed industries and lives be developing products like iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. For the past decade, the public has grown to expect yearly life-changing product announcements from Apple. This year, Jobs and Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S with Siri – digital assistant technology that promises to transform the way people interact with computers. This year Apple also launched iCloud, a system for storing music and data in the cloud for easy access from any Internet-connected computer.

2011 in the Cloud

History may look back on 2011 as “the year of cloud computing.” Apple wasn’t alone in developing cloud services. Just about every major tech company rolled out new cloud services this year. Amazon and Google, which have both been active in cloud computing for years, rolled out public cloud services for music to compete with Apple. Microsoft launched Office 365, a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office to compete with Google Docs. Businesses of all types and sizes are adopting both public and private cloud services for all types of business applications and services. This year has seen the start of a massive migration of data from private computers and servers to cloud servers to be accessed via the Internet.


2011 also goes down in history for its huge amount of hacker activity. Daily targeted attacks increased four hundred percent over 2011. Nearly every form of networked device is at risk: computers, cars, smart phones, and even printers. Several major network and database breaches made the news this year. Perhaps the largest was Sony’s PlayStation network which was out of commission for over a month. More serious was the attack on security firm RSA, where security tokens for hundreds of companies were stolen leaving those companies vulnerable to attack. Many other companies and organizations were hacked in 2011. The Privacy Clearinghouse has tracked a total of 535 breaches in the U.S. involving 30.4 million sensitive records over the course of the year. In 2011 we also learned that some news organizations, such as one belonging to Richard Murdock, have a habit of hacking cell phones to gain juicy tidbits of news. News companies have also been the target of hackers as both Fox News and NPR were hacked and had bogus news stories posted on their Twitter feeds and Web sites. The past year saw the birth of a dangerous virus named stuxnet, that attacks industrial systems. We have also witnessed the rise of hactivist groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec. These groups claimed responsibility for breaking into the networks belonging to hundreds of businesses, law enforcement agencies, and government agencies, including the FBI and U.S. defense contractors, and releasing confidential data for what they consider to be a righteous cause. Dozens of young hackers have been jailed for their participation in these hacker collectives.

Cyber Attacks

2011 has also seen a huge increase in state-sponsored cyber attacks including attacks on government agencies, U.S. defense contractors, and banks, not to mention one drone aircraft. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse China and Russia for many of the cyber attacks. The pentagon has designated cyberspace as an “operational domain” and threatens a military response to cyber attacks. The White house passed a new cyber security plan to help protect the nations critical infrastructure. But, it’s not just the U.S. that is concerned, every country on the Internet is dealing with cyber attacks and working to bolster their defenses. At the global Web Summit, nations deliberated over a cyber-nonproliferation pact to assist in curbing cyber-attacks between countries.

Social and Political Change

In 2011 the Internet and social media served as powerful tools for social and political change. Protest organizers in Egypt utilized Facebook, Twitter, and other online tools to gather public discontent into demonstrations that eventually ousted then-President Mubarik. The revolution fever spread through Internet channels to Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordon, Kuwait, Moroco, and Oman where citizens took to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their governments in what has become known as the Arab Spring. The Web is being used to coordinate protests across the U.S., and around the world. stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement, to express discontent with economic management by banks and governments. In the UK, the Web was used to orchestrate violent demonstrations featuring beatings, arson and burglaries across many cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.


As the Internet and Web empowers citizens to organize and express themselves, governments this year, are debating an Internet “kill switch” that would allow them to shut down the Internet in circumstances of public unrest. Egypt, and other Arab countries have implemented such actions during demonstrations, but still the demonstrators found ways around the Internet black-out to communicate their plight to the rest of the world. In other censorship news, U.S. lawmakers deliberate over the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring Internet Service Providers, search engines, and online financial services to block websites that are accused of infringing copyright. Some feel the bill represents the first significant step towards U.S. government censorship of Web content.

Privacy and Transparency

Privacy and transparency were huge issues in 2011. Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of leaked confidential government documents to the public. In reaction to the move, several online banks and financial services have blocked Wikileaks transactions, leaving Wikileaks financially strapped and struggling. Google and Facebook have both been scrutinized and criticized by European and U.S. governments for collecting private data about users and using it for marketing and ads. Both companies are under mandatory privacy audits in the U.S. for the next 20 years. The U.S. is considering regulations to curb Internet companies from tracking users online, while the industry has come up with its own “Do Not Track” option which no company seems to be implementing with any seriousness. Cell phone companies have also been the focus of government attention as it was discovered that many handsets regularly send private usage data to the cellular providers. Net neutrality also remains a hotly debated issue, as the FCC put new policies in place that require telecom companies and ISP’s to be more transparent about their network management practices and to provide equal treatment to all Internet applications.

Mobile Tech Industry

It was an active year for the tech industry with many shifts in power and influence. 2011 was the year of the tablet. While Apple’s iPad remains the market leader, dozens of Android tablets are now also competing in the market. High-end eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet incorporate LCD displays and offer added functionality to compete with tablet PCs at a lower price. The success of the Kindle, has contributed to the success of eBooks. Amazon reports that it now sells more ebooks than paper books. The cellular industry has seen major shifts as well. At the beginning of 2011, AT&T held an exclusive contract with Apple for the iPhone. Now Verizon and Sprint share that privilege. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, however, Android has become the most popular smartphone platform due to the many inexpensive Android handsets available. AT&T’s bid to buy TMobile was shut down by government regulators. Verizon and AT&T are buying up spectrum in competition to provide the best service to the most customers.

Entertainment Tech Industry

3D TV’s still haven’t really taken off like expected, but Microsoft’s Kinect and XBox game system have been a huge success in living room entertainment. The Kinect’s motion-driven game controller has transformed gaming into a physical activity. Dance games have become all the rage displacing the previously popular guitar playing games. Speaking of living room entertainment, Netflix grew huge in 2011 with Netflix users eating up as much as one third of all Internet traffic. Netflix blew it though, when it nearly doubled its fees, and lost hundreds of thousands of customers. In the mean time, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all have plans to take over TV and living room entertainment.

Winners and Losers

2011 has seen renewed investment in the tech industry allowing young companies like Groupon and Spotify to rapidly grow into major players. Meanwhile established companies work hard to stay relevant by using their talent and market position to control the direction of the industry. Google launched its social network Google+, providing the first serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is growing rapidly, with 62 million current users. Some believe it will grow to 400 million in 2012 – still significantly shy of Facebook’s current 800 million users. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple have been successful at ininnovating and staying relevant against fresh young talent, while Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blackberry have been less successful. 2012 will be a telling year for many of these companies.

2012 and Beyond

2011 has been a remarkable year for those of us that enjoy observing technology’s impact on people, cultures, societies, and the world. So what can we expect in 2012? Well it’s all conjecture, but I think it’s safe to assume that information security, privacy, net neutrality and government censorship will grow to become more demanding issues. The rapid rise in serious cyber attacks from numerous sources makes it seem likely that 2012 will feature prominent and perhaps catastrophic attacks on major online resources, and national infrastructure. There is likely to be a call-to-cyberarms as governments and populations recognize the extent of their online vulnerabilities. With the stressed state of the global economy and the upcoming national elections in the U.S., our online lifestyles are sure to become the focus of political expression from politicians, their supporters, and disgruntled citizens and groups. While there are a lot of indicators to fuel pessimism for 2012, there are also many indicators that support optimism. Technologies continue to evolve to provide better communication, more rapid problem solving, and more engaging forms of expression and entertainment. Without a doubt, 2012 will bring many new technologies with which we can improve our lives and our world. Technology does more than merely amplify the human condition; it provides opportunity and freedom of expression for populations that have been downtrodden and oppressed. It is the great equalizer. It provides opportunities to advance civilization and culture. It is likely that we will continue to see radical global change brought about with the help of technologies in 2012 and beyond. Managing this change in a positive direction will require strong and wise global leadership from political leaders, as well as from teachers and students like you.

National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

Debate continues around the White House’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The strategy calls for a unified system in which Internet users can enroll, in order to positively identify themselves to others on the Internet. While supporters of the plan say that it will simplify and secure online financial transactions, detractors caution that it will put users at higher risk since it essentially places all of the user’s security credentials in a one basket. Privacy advocates also worry that the system will allow government, law enforcement agencies, and businesses to more easily track a user’s online activities.