Internet News (October 2018)

China in moral crackdown on dubious website content

4,000 online accounts and websites have been shut down in China based on their “improper values, harmful content and obscenity”, during a 3 month campaign according to China’s statement news agency Xinhua. The crackdown also included sites that had actively been involved in copyright infringement.

China, known to have tight controls over internet access, has previously been involved in crackdowns of this kind. It is believed that the sites affected had been targeted due to these platforms offering “free access to e-books”.

In August, it was reported that Google had planned new censoring services in China, and would blacklist any websites that breached regulations. Following this announcement, employees wrote in their hundreds with protests. Employees were seeking “more transparency, a seat at the table and a commitment to clear open processes”.

Internet regulator may be appointed in the UK

The UK government are considering appointing an ‘Internet Regulator’ as part of proposed new legislation that will govern the UK’s internet provision. These proposals are expected in the next few months, with full details of the expectations of the new regulator.

It is understood that the government are seeking a similar regulatory body to Ofcom, however the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) could neither confirm nor deny this announcement, by responding that they had no information to share at this time.

Areas for suggestions have already been made by a cross-party committee who investigate fake news and misinformation throughout the internet. These include keeping a close watch on political advertising and electoral law, clearer guidelines for online advertising, and imposing taxes on social networks in order to pay for digitised literacy programs in educational establishments.

The government’s proposals would be broader than this, and include powers to remove illegal “hate speeches”, similar to legislation that has been introduced in Germany. Social network sites will have to verify users ages more stringently, and under these new powers, the government can prosecute any social networks that have failed to remove any images that include terrorism or child abuse, as well as restrict online advertising for foodstuffs that contain high salt, fat or sugar content.

The DCMS have reported that all options will be considered depending on what legislations are necessary should a regulator be required.

Microsoft invests further in global AI initiatives

Earlier this week, Microsoft confirmed their plan to invest a further $40 million towards AI initiative programs. AI for Earth and AI for Accessibility are two parts of the AI for Humanitarian Action project, with an aim and a focus on disaster areas and response time aid, addressing the needs of children around the globe, refugees, their living conditions and human rights.

The project has seen investments to date of $50 million for AI Earth and $25 million for AI for Accessibility. The investment from Microsoft is intended to take place over a period of 5 years through grants made to non-governmental organisations and other groups involved in the project. This will include grants toward technology licences, training and other required resources.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President stated that Microsoft are “optimistic” with the intended work for the AI for Humanitarian Action plan, and believes that the project will see faster innovation strategies that utilise the advantages of AI by way of new applications, the introduction of reusable solutions, as well as collaborating with businesses to provide expansion and growth.

Microsoft launched the 3-part AI for Good Initiative in 2017. The humanitarian program will see a total investment of $115 million.

An internet of two halves

According to Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, in 10-15 years the world will see the internet split in two, with China and the US controlling each half.

Whilst attending an event in San Francisco hosted by Global Village, economist Terry Cowen posed the question to Schmidt about the future of the internet, and whether the internet could be divided into 3 – 4 areas within the next decade. Schmidt could also see some countries following China’s increasingly tighter control of the internet, their own governments tightening censorship of media, with users losing much of their freedom to roam unimpeded.

Rapid progress is being made in China, and their online services with businesses including Alibaba and Tencent leading the way. Devices manufactured by Huawei are catching up with Apple, with Huawei becoming the second largest smartphone manufacturer across the globe, with China’s Xiaomi and Oppo climbing third and fourth positions respectively behind the market leaders, according to a report by the IDC.

Technology companies based in the US are continuing to fail to enter the Chinese markets, where social network giants Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are blocked. Google are working hard to introduce a censored search engine that will honour China’s security regulations in a bid to enter the Chinese market.

Many technology companies have been affected by the Trump administration’s trade war. It has been reported that Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple has discussed the imposed tariffs on Chinese goods with Trump. Earlier this year, Trump placed a ban on US-based companies planning any business arrangements with ZTE, a Chinese supplier and manufacturers of smartphones and wireless equipment. The ban was lifted, after the firm received a $1 billion fine.

China’s networks have already reached the same level of maturity as the rest of the World Wide Web, offering everything from “ride-hailing platforms” and up to date digitised payment systems. The world of the internet as we see it now could change, and Schmidt may well be right. However, time will only tell, and perhaps we may see that day sooner rather than later.

Happy birthday Google

It was 20 years ago last week that we saw the birth of Google. Since it’s birth, the word Google has become part of our vocabulary and is now recognised as a verb. If you were to ask the question online, what the definition of Google is you’d get the first reply of “Google is a verb – to search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google”, rather than the name given to a theoretically high number in mathematics.

Google was set up by two students based in Silicon Valley. While at Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin both wanted to introduce a new efficient and effective way to index and search the internet. With the introduction of excessive use of keywords, and the development of software and factoring relationships between webpages, Google was eventually launched in 1998 in a rented garage unit based in North California.

Brin and Page took the name Google from the mathematical term “googol”, referring to the number 1, followed by a sequence of 100 zeros. According to reports, Google was initially run by computer servers based at Stanford; it was also reported that the same location was used to test an earlier version.

Early deals saw legends Brin and Page offering to sell Google for $1 million, but no deal was ever finalised. In August 2004, Google first took its place on the stock market, with shares costing $85. The now multi-million-dollar company sees today’s share price to be in excess of $1,000. Google then moved their headquarters to Mountain View, where they remain to this day. The legendary code of conduct, “Don’t be evil” clause remains, as does Google’s mission statement to make the world’s information available to everyone across the globe.

Revenue was initially received by targeted online advertisements with markets paying for their advertising when their links were opened by the operator. The introduction of Maps, Gmail, Chrome, Android mobile operation systems has aided their chain of success.

Google later introduced the Pixel range of smartphones, that have dominated markets with many manufacturers. Their success has seen the purchase of the YouTube sharing platform in 2006 at a value of $1.65 billion, which at the time seemed an excessive amount – it has since proved its worth in the world of online entertainment.

More recently, the company has invested large sums into the so-called “X Lab” projects. Future technology research from Google includes refining Google Glass, augmented reality smart glasses that can be linked to the internet, self-driving cars, and balloons with the capability to fly at high altitudes to provide internet services to remote locations that are difficult to access. Some of these projects have paid off, these projects have evolved into companies, such as Waymo in the case of the self-driving car technology. Even so, Google Glass has not been as successful and failed at an early hurdle – undeterred, Google is working on the glasses and as of last year, an updated version is available, if a little costly.

In 2015, following some commercial restructuring, Google’s parent company Alphabet was introduced, as were subsidiaries of Google, namely the aforementioned Waymo, Verily (involved in health sciences) and others. Alphabet employees over 80,000 people across the world, making most of their revenue from online advertisements. eMarketer, an internet industry tracker, forecasted that jointly, Google and Facebook would receive 57.7% of the US’s digital advertising revenue in 2018.

Google have been successful in utilising AI with their digital assistant smart speaker and other devices, rivalling Amazon, Apple and Microsoft’s products in the market. In the 2nd quarter of 2018, Google issued profit reports of $3.2 billion. These figures followed Google’s fine of $5.1 billion earlier this year from the European Union for anti-trust violations regarding its dominance in the smartphone market.

Europe’s regulators raised concerns that Google had abused that dominance relating to online searches and advertising, in conjunction with the Android operating software on smartphones. Concerns have also been raised that Alphabet were more interested in receiving their revenue from using people’s private data than safeguarding it. Accusations alluding to siphoning money and tempting news readers away from mainstream news feeds and organisations by providing alternative news features in their search lists that would result in revenue for advertisements were made.

Google have been instructed to ensure that the information they hold is protected against “the spread of misinformation”. President Trump has targeted Google and requested that “the chorus of Republicans who contend conservative viewpoints are downplayed within search results”. It will be interesting to see Google’s story in another twenty years. Anything is possible.

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Internet News – September 2018

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