A letter to my state security officer (if I have one)

Someone commenting on a previous post suggested that because of this blog, he is sure that I "already have a Security State Official."

If that is the case, let me start by saying "hello" to my security official.

The comment implied that you are watching me because you oppose what I post. If that is the case, you are in good company, because the older Cuban expatriates in the United States also oppose what I post.

A colleague from Radio Marti once told me that he knew he was doing his job well if both sides were angry with him. I guess I am doing my job well.

I hope you will take the time to read what I have posted on this blog and written elsewhere carefully. I trust that you will find much that you agree with and much that you disagree with. The world is grey, not black and white. There is good and bad on both sides.

One thing should be clear -- I watched and was moved by the founding of the Cuban Internet, and my motivation is for the Cuban people and the ways in which the Internet can benefit them.

Well, if you are reading this, it is good to know you. Please feel free to comment on anything you read here or on Google Plus or my other blogs.

If you are ever in Los Angeles, please visit me!

Larry Press

Ecured is not open like Wikipedia

Ecured is a Cuban encyclopedia that is sometimes compared to Wikipedia. Ecured uses the same software as Wikipedia, so they look similar, but there are key differences.

Wikipedia has millions of articles in dozens of languages while the much newer Ecured has 78,438 articles. This is partially explained by the fact that Ecured is only one year old and partially due restrictions on accounts.

Anyone can read Ecured entries, but only those with accounts can create, discuss or edit entries. I tried to create accounts using two different domains, csudh.edu and gmail.com. Both were rejected. (Does anyone know whether accounts are limited to people in the .cu domain? More restricted than that?)

More striking differences emerge when one looks at articles. Wikipedia articles evolve through open collaboration, while Ecured articles appear to be written by single authors. What follows is my anecdotal experience.

I began with a topic I am interested in: "Submarine cable Cuba-Venezuela". The article summarizes the facts about the cable that we have read in the press and covered in this blog. It goes off on a political tangent that might have been questioned on Wikipedia, but it superficially resembles a Wikipedia article.

But, wikis have discussion and edit history pages associated with each article, and there we see differences.

The discussion page of the Ecured article is empty – there has been no discussion.

The edit history page is more surprising. The original article was entered in a little over an hour by Arian Perez on January 27, 2011. It was around 10,000 bytes long, so must have been composed before he entered it. On February 3, he added another 1,000 bytes.

The only changes since that time were a minor adjustment on February 5, 2011 and the addition of an image and four technical paragraphs on July 30. Perez made wording adjustments after each of these contributions.

The most recent edit was August 1, 2011 – there is no mention of the subsequent landing of the cable, its use, or reports of corruption surrounding it. The article began almost fully formed, and has been only marginally revised by two people over nearly a year.

This is not the sort of collaboration we see on Wikipedia. For example, this presentation on the evolution of a wiki shows a wiki being transformed from a single sentence to a 1,600 word article organized into six major and three minor sections. Over 1,000 authors made over 1,600 changes to the article.

Digging a bit deeper, I checked Perez's profile and learned that he has initiated 139 new pages and made improvements to 19 others. Since Ecured is only a year old, it seems he is writing full time for the site. (His profile lists his affiliation as the Youth Computer Clubs).

Mr. Perez has written on many political and technical topics, but the one that caught my eye was on Yoani Sánchez.

The article begins "Yoani Sánchez. Cybermercinary and Cuban blogger," and proceeds to discredit her as a counter revolutionary who has received support from dubious organizations.

Perez first post on Sánchez was 21,041 bytes long on April 5, 2011. Since then there have been 11 small changes by Perez and four other people bringing the article to 21,221 bytes.

Contrast that with the Wikipedia article on Sánchez. It began in May 6, 2008 with a 702 byte post of three sentences, one reference and a link to her blog. Since then, 117 people have made 304 marginal and 540 major edits and the article has grown to 44,475 bytes, organized into seven major and seven minor sections.

The bottom line – Ecured seems more like a closed, multi-author blog than an open wiki like Wikipedia.

ALBA-1 environmental impact assessment

A comment on an earlier post points to an environmental impact study of the Cuba-Jamaica segment of the ALBA-1 undersea cable:
  1. Executive Summary
  2. Project Description
  3. Analysis of Alternatives
  4. Policy, Legislative & Regulatory Framework
  5. Description of Bio-Physical Environment
  6. Socio-Cultural & Socio-Economic Environment
  7. Determination of Potential Impacts
  8. Outline Environmental Management & Monitoring Plans
  9. References
The report is surprisingly (to me) detailed.

Since the report was commissioned by the National Environment and Planning Agency of Jamaica, it focuses on Jamaica and and the Jamaican landing point.

Is there a similar document from Cuba?

Also, if you are a cable geek (even a little bit of one) and you have not seen them, check out Telegeography's interactive submarine cable map Neal Stephenson's description of the FLAG cable and the book by Arthur C. Clarke, which are described here.

Redsocial is not a "Facebook clone"

There was a recent announcement of a Cuban "Facebook clone" called Redsocial. But, Redsocial is not a Cuban Facebook for the following reasons.

1. Access is limited: A URL was published, then quickly went dead. According to a comment by Irving Leonard, access to Redsocial is confined users on a "/8" (up to 16,777,216 hosts) local network that connects Cuban universities. In this Redsocial is a clone of Facebook when it was first launched -- restricted to a few univerity students.

2. Size is limited: Redsocial claimed 7,000 users had registered up in one week. One tenth of the world population uses Facebook.

3. Facebook is a platform: I did not get a chance to see Redsocial before they cut access, but I would be amazed if it provided anything like the open development environment, which allows one to create applications that are used inside Facebook.

4. Anonymity: One can create a Facebook account without divulging their real identitiy, but if one must access Redsocial through a university account, their identity is discoverable.

If Redsocial is a Facebook clone, it is a clone of Facebook in 2004, not of today's Facebook.

NPR: In Cuba, Dial-Up Internet Is A Luxury

NPR aired a five minute segment by correspondent Nick Miroff on the state of the Cuban Internet.

Miroff portrays Internet access as expensive and limited, as illustrated by this photo of Cubans waiting to get online at a Havana cybercafe. He also points out the irony of Cubans carrying smart phones that can only be used for texting and voice calls and a Cuban TV presentation on Facebook and Twitter, which are unavailable to all but a tiny portion of the population.

Miroff also mentions Cuban's disappointment that the ALBA cable has had no discernible effect, citing swirling rumors of technical problems, bad business deals, or political fear flamed by the role of social media in the Arab Spring -- the dictator's dilemma again.

You can listen to the segment or read a transcript on the NRP Web site.

Giving back in 2011

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

As the holiday season approaches we thought it was a good moment to update you on some grants we're making to support education, technology and the fight against modern day slavery.

STEM and girls’ education
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) open up great opportunities for young people so we've decided to fund 16 great programs in this area. These include Boston-based Citizen Schools and Generating Genius in the U.K., both of which work to help to expand the horizons of underprivileged youngsters. In total, our grants will provide enhanced STEM education for more than 3 million students.

In addition, we're supporting girls’ education in the developing world. By giving a girl an education, you not only improve her opportunities, but those of her whole family. The African Leadership Academy provides merit scholarships to promising young women across the continent, and the Afghan Institute of Learning offers literacy classes to women and girls in rural Afghanistan. Groups like these will use our funds to educate more than 10,000 girls in developing countries.

Empowerment through technology
We've all been wowed by the entrepreneurial spirit behind the 15 awards in this category, all of whom are using the web, open source programming and other technology platforms to connect communities and improve access to information. Vittana, for instance, helps lenders offer loans to students in the developing world who have have a 99 percent repayment rate—potentially doubling or tripling a recipient's earning power. Code for America enables the web industry to share its skills with the public sector by developing projects that improve transparency and encourage civic engagement on a mass scale. And Switchboard is working with local mobile providers to help African health care workers create networks and communicate for free.,/p>

Fighting slavery and human trafficking
Modern day slavery is a multi-billion dollar industry that ruins the lives of around 27 million people. So we're funding a number of groups that are working to tackle the problem. For instance, in India, International Justice Mission (IJM), along with The BBC World Service Trust, Action Aid and Aide et Action, are forming a new coalition. It will work on the ground with governments to stop slave labor by identifying the ring masters, documenting abuse, freeing individuals and providing them with therapy as well as job training. Our support will also help expand the reach of tools like the powerful Slavery Footprint calculator and Polaris Project’s National Trafficking Hotline.

To learn more about these organizations and how you can get involved, visit our Google Gives Back 2011 site and take a look at this video:

These grants, which total $40 million, are only part of our annual philanthropic efforts. Over the course of the year, Google provided more than $115 million in funding to various nonprofit organizations and academic institutions around the world; our in-kind support (programs like Google Grants and Google Apps for Education that offer free products and services to eligible organizations) came to more than $1 billion, and our annual company-wide GoogleServe event and related programs enabled individual Googlers to donate more than 40,000 hours of their own volunteer time.

As 2011 draws to a close, I’m inspired by this year’s grantees and look forward to seeing their world-changing work in 2012.

Apply for a 2012 Google Policy Fellowship

From intellectual property enforcement, to patents, to free expression, policy makers are focused on the web. We’re excited to launch the 5th summer of the Google Policy Fellowship, connecting students of all levels and disciplines with organizations working on the forefront of these and other critical issues for the future of the Internet. Applications are open today, and the deadline to apply is February 3, 2012.

Selected students will spend ten weeks this summer working on a broad portfolio of topics at a diverse set of organizations, including: American Library Association, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, Center for Democracy and Technology, The Citizen Lab, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Future of Music Coalition, Internet Education Foundation, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Media Access Project, National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America Foundation, Public Knowledge, TechFreedom, and Technology Policy Institute.

You can learn about the program and host organizations on the Google Public Policy Fellowship website.

A Cuban Facebook?

The blog La Chriinga de Cuba reported that Cuba had launched a Facebook clone called Redsocial.

La Chiringa later reported that the Redsocial URL had changed from http://facebook.ismm.edu.cu to http://neko.uclv.edu.cu/index.php/, but both were broken when I tried to follow them.

The site tag line is "A virtual meeting place for Cuban universities," which sounds more like Facebook 1.0 than today's Facebook. ISMM is a school of mining, geology and metalurgy and UCLV the Central University of Las Villas, indicating that this is a university oriented site.

I tried pinging ISMM and UCLV. ISMM is not pingable, but, from my computer, UCLV has an average ping time of just over 1.8 seconds, so it is clearly not connected to the ALBA cable.

Has anyone seen Redsocial?

(The Huffington Post also covered the story).

Helping Implement America Invents Act

In passing and signing the America Invents Act, Congress and President Obama recognized the high costs and harms to innovation posed by invalid patents. To help combat the problem, the law creates three new programs that allow the public to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (or PTO for short) to reconsider the validity of issued patents based on new evidence and arguments: inter partes review, post-grant review, and a transitional program for review of business method patents.

To contribute to the dialog around how to implement these changes, we have submitted three comments to the PTO (two jointly with Cisco and Verizon) making suggestions on regulations that the PTO could issue to help these three programs achieve Congress’ goal, including:
  • The creation of procedures and rules that allow patent challengers a full opportunity to develop invalidity arguments so that the PTO will have the information it needs to make an informed decision;
  • Allowing companies harmed by threats of infringement (not just lawsuits) to use the new business method transitional program, including the definition of a broad category of eligible business method patents; and,
  • Continued protection of prior user rights under the first-to-file patent system, without which companies would be forced to file patents on trade secrets and minor improvements so a later patentee could not stop them from using their own inventions.
You can view these submitted comments in their entirety on the PTO’s site.

A Big Tent for free expression in The Hague

Editor’s note: In parallel with the Big Tent event in the Hague, earlier today we partnered with the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington, DC to hold a seminar on internet freedom at the Newseum.

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog and the European Public Policy blog)

Google has long worked hard to raise the issue of Internet freedom in Europe. So when the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal took the initiative to host a meeting bringing together foreign ministers from more than 16 countries in the Netherlands, we wondered what could we do to support it.

Our answer was to hook up with the Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited and host one of our Big Tent events, which aim to bring together corporations, civil society and politicians. We were delighted when both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Minister Rosenthal agreed to take part. Our Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt welcomed them to the Fokker Terminal in The Hague. “We are joined in a spirit to fight people who want to shut down free speech," he said. "It makes easy sense for a government to say: 'We don't like that...we're going to censor it'.” The conference, he said, was organized "to make the point that this is not right."

Secretary of State Clinton called on companies to protect Internet freedoms and stop selling technology that allows repressive governments to censor the net or spy on Internet users. She urged corporations to join Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the Global Network Initiative to resist government efforts to impose filtering or censoring requirements. She also called on governments to fight attempts to impose national controls on the net. Any such attempt would contain people in a “series of digital bubbles rather than connecting them,” she said. "It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of Internet content or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.”

Minister Uri Rosenthal called for legislation against exports of Internet surveillance material and promised 6 million euros to help Internet activists in repressive regimes. High-powered contributions came from the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and European parliamentarian Marietje Schaake.

A panel brought together business leaders and prominent human rights activists, including the Thai webmaster Chiranuch Premchaiporn, better known as Jiew, who faces trial over comments posted on her site that were deemed insulting to the monarchy.

The Hague is our third Big Tent (see highlights here), a place where we bring together various viewpoints to discuss essential topics to the future of the Internet. The format seems to be a hit, and we plan to hold more around the world in the coming months.

The evolution of search in six minutes

(Cross-posted on from the Official Google Blog)

This summer we posted a video that takes a peek under the hood of search, sharing the methodology behind search ranking and evaluation. Through this methodology, we make roughly 500 improvements to search in a typical year. As we often discuss, that’s a lot of change, and it can be hard to make sense of it all.

Following up on our last video, we wanted to share with you a short history of the evolution of search, highlighting some of the most important milestones from the past decade—and a taste of what’s coming next.

Our goal is to get you to the answer you’re looking for faster and faster, creating a nearly seamless connection between your questions and the information you seek. That means you don’t generally need to know about the latest search feature in order to take advantage of it— simply type into the box as usual and find the answers you’re looking for.

However, for those of you looking to deepen your understanding of how search has evolved, the video highlights some important trends:

  • Universal Results: With Universal Search—which returns results like images, videos, and news, in addition to webpages—we’re helping you find all different kinds of information in the same place. We’ve continued to make search more comprehensive, enabling you to find products, places, patents, books, maps and more.
  • Quick Answers: Today on Google you’ll find more than just a list of links to websites. You’ll find Quick Answers at the top of the page for a wide variety of topics, including flight times, sports scores, weather and dozens more. As our technology gets better, we’re beginning to answer harder questions for you, right on the search results page.
  • The Future of Search: We’ve also been focused on developing faster ways to search and save time, whether we’re shaving seconds off searches with Google Instant or helping you search from your phone with Voice Search. Searching should be as easy as thinking, and the future looks bright!

As part of making the video we also created a timeline of search features. It’s not the first timeline we’ve done, but I think this one does a nice job of categorizing the different kinds of Universal Results and Quick Answers we’ve added over the years:
The timeline depicts the approximate dates when we launched particular search feature enhancements. You can also download a larger image by following this link.
It’s been exciting to be part of the evolution of search over the past decade, and we’re thrilled about what’s in store next. If the past is any indication, we don’t know what search will look like in 2020, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it looks nothing like it does today.

Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives on copyright legislation

Ten recent algorithm changes

Starting today, we'll begin cross-posting some entries from our Inside Search blog to help pull back the curtain even further on how Google search works. We hope to provide greater transparency by posting regular updates about our major search ranking changes.

Today we’re continuing our long-standing series of blog posts to share the methodology and process behind our search ranking, evaluation and algorithmic changes. This summer we published a video that gives a glimpse into our overall process, and today we want to give you a flavor of specific algorithm changes by publishing a highlight list of many of the improvements we’ve made over the past couple weeks.

We’ve published hundreds of blog posts about search over the years on this blog, our Official Google Blog, and even on my personal blog. But we’re always looking for ways to give you even deeper insight into the over 500 changes we make to search in a given year. In that spirit, here’s a list of ten improvements from the past couple weeks:
  • Cross-language information retrieval updates: For queries in languages where limited web content is available (Afrikaans, Malay, Slovak, Swahili, Hindi, Norwegian, Serbian, Catalan, Maltese, Macedonian, Albanian, Slovenian, Welsh, Icelandic), we will now translate relevant English web pages and display the translated titles directly below the English titles in the search results. This feature was available previously in Korean, but only at the bottom of the page. Clicking on the translated titles will take you to pages translated from English into the query language.
  • Snippets with more page content and less header/menu content: This change helps us choose more relevant text to use in snippets. As we improve our understanding of web page structure, we are now more likely to pick text from the actual page content, and less likely to use text that is part of a header or menu.
  • Better page titles in search results by de-duplicating boilerplate anchors: We look at a number of signals when generating a page’s title. One signal is the anchor text in links pointing to the page. We found that boilerplate links with duplicated anchor text are not as relevant, so we are putting less emphasis on these. The result is more relevant titles that are specific to the page’s content.
  • Length-based autocomplete predictions in Russian: This improvement reduces the number of long, sometimes arbitrary query predictions in Russian. We will not make predictions that are very long in comparison either to the partial query or to the other predictions for that partial query. This is already our practice in English.
  • Extending application rich snippets: We recently announced rich snippets for applications. This enables people who are searching for software applications to see details, like cost and user reviews, within their search results. This change extends the coverage of application rich snippets, so they will be available more often.
  • Retiring a signal in Image search: As the web evolves, we often revisit signals that we launched in the past that no longer appear to have a significant impact. In this case, we decided to retire a signal in Image Search related to images that had references from multiple documents on the web.
  • Fresher, more recent results: As we announced just over a week ago, we’ve made a significant improvement to how we rank fresh content. This change impacts roughly 35 percent of total searches (around 6-10% of search results to a noticeable degree) and better determines the appropriate level of freshness for a given query.
  • Refining official page detection: We try hard to give our users the most relevant and authoritative results. With this change, we adjusted how we attempt to determine which pages are official. This will tend to rank official websites even higher in our ranking.
  • Improvements to date-restricted queries: We changed how we handle result freshness for queries where a user has chosen a specific date range. This helps ensure that users get the results that are most relevant for the date range that they specify.
  • Prediction fix for IME queries: This change improves how Autocomplete handles IME queries (queries which contain non-Latin characters). Autocomplete was previously storing the intermediate keystrokes needed to type each character, which would sometimes result in gibberish predictions for Hebrew, Russian and Arabic.
If you’re a site owner, before you go wild tuning your anchor text or thinking about your web presence for Icelandic users, please remember that this is only a sampling of the hundreds of changes we make to our search algorithms in a given year, and even these changes may not work precisely as you’d imagine. We’ve decided to publish these descriptions in part because these specific changes are less susceptible to gaming.

For those of us working in search every day, we think this stuff is incredibly exciting -- but then again, we’re big search geeks. Let us know what you think and we’ll consider publishing more posts like this in the future.

Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Kansas City

Yesterday, we announced that we’ve partnered with Startup Weekend—a global organization committed to promoting real entrepreneurship in local communities. Startup Weekend hosts events in more than 200 cities, where a diverse group of entrepreneurs collaborate to inspire, educate, and empower their communities.  Participants gather on Friday, and by Sunday afternoon, they launch a product or startup.

Startup Weekend is a global initiative—but it’s coming to Kansas City this weekend!  Over the next 54 hours, developers, designers, and community members will brainstorm and collaborate on ways to foster the entrepreneurial spirit in Kansas City.  

Part of the conversation will touch on Google Fiber and the unique fiber-to-the-home network KC will soon have.  Startup Weekend participants will brainstorm how Fiber can super-charge their ideas to create products and services for a truly connected city. We’re excited to hear what they come up with!

The Kansas City Startup Weekend also kicks off Global Entrepreneurship Week activities in Kansas City.  If you can’t make it to Startup Weekend, you can attend one of many events throughout the Kansas City region that will celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit.  

Powering a new job search engine for military veterans

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog and Inside Search blog)

Earlier today, President Obama spoke about the importance of helping returning military veterans find work. Thousands of businesses have committed to hiring military veterans and families and as part of this nationwide effort, starting today, job seekers can visit the National Resource Directory (NRD) to search more than 500,000 job openings from employers around the country.

We have been working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a customized job search engine for the NRD, using Google Custom Search technology. This custom search engine uses the power and scale of Google search to constantly crawl the web, looking for JobPosting markup from Schema.org on sites like simplyhired.com to identify veteran-committed job openings. An employer can easily add a job posting to NRD simply by adding that markup to their own web page. As pages are updated or removed from the web, they’re automatically updated and removed from the system, keeping the available job postings on NRD fresh and up to date.

If you’re an employer, you can find more information on how to participate on nationalresourcedirectory.gov. In addition, organizations such as local veterans' groups can help people find jobs by adding a veteran-committed jobs search box to their websites.

We’re happy to contribute to this important initiative and hope businesses use this opportunity to connect with veterans seeking employment.

Advancing the free flow of information

The global economy relies on the free flow of information more than ever before. Companies large and small can use the Internet to reach new markets, which contributes to economic growth, job creation, and increased trade around the world.

But as companies and individuals are transmitting more information online, some governments are seeking to impose limits on the free flow of information. More than 40 governments now block or restrict information and data available on the Internet.

Last year, we released a white paper demonstrating that governments which block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth. For example, when companies can’t confidentially and confidently transmit the files and information that are necessary to keep their business running, their ability to export goods and services is hurt. The thesis is simple: when countries support the free flow of information, they will see more economic growth.

That’s why we joined companies like Citi, Microsoft, IBM, GE and others to endorse a new set of principles endorsing the free flow of information across borders. The principles, written under the leadership of the National Foreign Trade Council, outline several priorities for the U.S. business community which will promote transparent, fair, and secure cross-border data flows.

Individuals and businesses will benefit from a more consistent and transparent framework for the treatment of cross-border flows of goods, services and information. We look forward to continued work with governments and industry to advance the free flow of information online.

Google Plus circle on the Internet in Cuba

I have a Cuban Internet circle on Google Plus. If you are a Google Plus member, let me know and I will add you to it.

Partnering with the American Red Cross to Support Wounded, Ill and Injured Warriors

Last week, Google launched the “Chrome for Wounded, Ill and Injured Warriors” program in partnership with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. Google has donated 600 Chromebooks to the Red Cross for exclusive use by wounded, ill and injured warriors during their recovery at five polytrauma centers.

To kick off the program, 20 members of the Google Veterans Network, our employee resource group dedicated to veterans’ issues, paid a visit to some friends over at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. We delivered 275 of the Chromebooks and led one-on-one training over the course of two days with warriors, their family members, hospital staff, and Red Cross volunteers.

We realize that technology plays a huge role in staying in touch with friends and family, and we hope that these Chromebooks will help our wounded, ill and injured warriors do just that. For many of these soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and coasties, emailing, chatting, calling, and video are a primary connection point to family and friends spread across the world.

An additional 325 Chromebooks have been distributed to Red Cross stations at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, Womack Army Medical Center, Navy Medical Center San Diego and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

We are proud to partner with the American Red Cross on this initiative. Take a minute to check out the blog post from the Red Cross about the visit.

Cuban backbone, November 2003

When the undersea cable is lit, Cuban connectivity to the outside world will improve dramatically, but we know nothing about plans for complementary improvements in the domestic infrastructure -- equipment or people -- needed to take advantage of the added external capacity.
In a comment on an earlier post asking about such plans, "Muchas Gracias" points us to a November 2003 presentation on Cuban telecommunications by the executive president of ETECSA, José Antonio Fernández Martínez.

The presentation reviews ETECSA investment, telephony, and the Internet. For me, the highlight of the presentation were two slides showing the fiber and microwave backbones. These are eight years old, and, except for Havana, say nothing about local fiber, but they are the best we have at present.

Draft of paper on the past, present and future of the Cuban Internet

I have drafted a paper on the Past, Present and Future of the Internet in Cuba. Your comments and suggestions would help me improve it.

The paper is based on a talk I gave at the conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy last August. You can see video of that presentation and download the PowerPoint slides here.

Missing report on the cost of the embargo

Next week the United Nations General Assembly will debate the "necessity of ending" the US embargo of Cuba. It is difficult to refrain from expressing an opinion on this topic, but I vowed to keep politics off this blog, so will not.

But, there is an Internet tie in. I have read news of of a Cuban report to the United Nations, which states that the US trade embargo is crippling their telecommunications and costing millions of dollars in lost revenue each year.

I tried to follow up on this, but could not find the report or reference to it on the UN Web site. Has anyone seen it or the data supporting it?

What's happening with the cable?

The last news I heard of the ALBA-1 cable was in August, when it was announced that it would begin operation in September or October.

I was waiting till the end of the month to ask about the cable, but the Havana Times recently published an editorial asking "who ate the cable?" They imply that the cable has been delayed or perhaps even stopped by graft and allude to Ramiro Valdés' statement comparing the Internet to “a wild horse yet to be tamed.”

Can anyone supply us with an update on the cable?

More data, more transparency around government requests

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

How do governments affect access to information on the Internet? To help shed some light on that very question, last year we launched an online, interactive Transparency Report. All too often, policy that affects how information flows on the Internet is created in the absence of empirical data. But by showing traffic patterns and disruptions to our services, and by sharing how many government requests for content removal and user data we receive from around the world, we hope to offer up some metrics to contribute to a public conversation about the laws that influence how people communicate online.

Today we’re updating the Government Requests tool with numbers for requests that we received from January to June 2011. For the first time, we’re not only disclosing the number of requests for user data, but we’re showing the number of users or accounts that are specified in those requests too. We also recently released the raw data behind the requests. Interested developers and researchers can now take this data and revisualize it in different ways, or mash it up with information from other organizations to test and draw up new hypotheses about government behaviors online.

We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago—long before the average person had ever heard of email. Yet at the end of the day, the information that we’re disclosing offers only a limited snapshot. We hope others join us in the effort to provide more transparency, so we’ll be better able to see the bigger picture of how regulatory environments affect the entire web.

Technology and human rights

Every day we see Internet users around the world finding new ways to use technology to help bring about political, economic and social change. It’s exciting to see people exercise their rights to freely express themselves and access information across borders and media -- rights first enshrined in Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights long before the Internet existed.

Far less clear, however, are the long-term implications of rapid technological development for human rights: What’s the balance between people using social media to empower themselves and governments using it to oppress their own citizens? How do governments create national policies when the Internet breaks borders? And what role do companies have in enabling or protecting the free exchange of ideas?

These questions and more will be addressed at the first ever Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference, taking place in San Francisco on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 25 and 26. Activists, academics, and analysts will meet with engineers, entrepreneurs, and executives for discussion about how and when technology can advance human rights.

We’re pleased to be the original sponsor of Rightscon, as it’s being called. Several Googlers from the public policy team, as well as speakers from YouTube, will be participating on panels and in roundtable discussions on topics from free expression and government regulation to transparency and intermediary liability. You can see the full agenda here.

We want you to be part of the conversation, too. So in partnership with Access, the non-profit which is hosting the event, we will be live streaming the plenary speeches and panels from 9am to 5pm PT on each day of the conference on CitizenTube, YouTube’s News and Politics channel. We hope you’ll tune in and participate.

Making search more secure

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

We’ve worked hard over the past few years to increase our services’ use of an encryption protocol called SSL, as well as encouraging the industry to adopt stronger security standards. For example, we made SSL the default setting in Gmail in January 2010 and introduced an encrypted search service located at https://encrypted.google.com four months later. Other prominent web companies have also added SSL support in recent months.

As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users. Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to https://www.google.com (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page. This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe. You can also navigate to https://www.google.com directly if you’re signed out or if you don’t have a Google Account.

What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won't receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools. This information helps webmasters keep more accurate statistics about their user traffic. If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.

As we continue to add more support for SSL across our products and services, we hope to see similar action from other websites. That’s why our researchers publish information about SSL and provide advice to help facilitate broader use of the protocol. We hope that today’s move to increase the privacy and security of your web searches is only the next step in a broader industry effort to employ SSL encryption more widely and effectively.

Good to Know

We know that staying safe while navigating the web can be a challenge for many people. Today, we’re launching a new resource on the Google website, Good to Know, that makes learning about security and privacy even easier for our users.

Privacy policies and terms of service can often be long, complex and legalistic. Our goal with the Good To Know campaign is to provide people with practical guidance, like how to select a safe password or keep their online accounts secure. In the past few years, we’ve tried to make it easier for our users to learn about staying safe online by equipping them with a variety of tools through our Privacy, Security, and Family Safety centers.

The new Good to Know website builds on this commitment to explaining things in simple language. The in-depth resources are still there, but we hope a one-stop-shop resource will make this information more accessible for everyone. Improving media literacy is a shared task, and we’ll continue to do our part to help empower and educate consumers.

Open Government in Action

When someone uses Google to search, it’s our job to provide them with answers.  We’ve come a long way in developing search technology that delivers the most relevant results for our users, but there are still some answers that are difficult to find and provide.

This became painfully clear during the health care debate last year.  In the space of a few weeks, we had a sharp increase in search queries about the health care bill or a specific provision of the legislation.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t provide the best information to our users simply because a lot of congressional information isn’t readily available in a digital format.

Congress and members of Congress share information in a lot of modern ways through Twitter, Facebook, and on the web, but some congressional data sharing processes are older than Congress itself, as groups like the Sunlight Foundation have pointed out.  

Last week, Karen Haas, the Clerk for the House of Representatives, changed the game dramatically.  She led an effort to update the Clerk’s legislative activities page so that it now includes a huge amount of browsable and searchable information.  The new features include detailed summaries of daily floor action, what bills were debated and introduced each day (with links to the full text of the bill) and a detailed summary of every vote.  

In addition, each “house floor proceedings” page now includes archived video from the House floor and a detailed XML file for each day’s activity so that web developers and others can use and share this information.  

The House of Representatives has demonstrated great leadership on this project.  We look forward to using this congressional data to improve Google Search now and in the future as the congressional commitment to open government expands.  

Two days in D.C. for the winners of the Google Science Fair

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog and the Google Science Fair blog)

Last week, 17-year-old Shree Bose from Fort Worth, Texas, the grand prize winner of the Google Science Fair, visited Washington, D.C. at the invitation of the White House. We invited Shree to write about her experience in the capital. - Ed.

Adrenaline. I turned around as the brilliantly polished door behind me opened, and suddenly I was face to face with a man I’d seen so many times on television. The President of the United States calmly extended his hand to shake mine and those of Naomi and Lauren, the other two winners of Google’s first-ever Science Fair. He knew about our projects and was genuinely excited to talk with us.

The Oval Office is more than just a room. It has a palpable aura of grandeur, with the presidential seal in the center of the deep blue carpet and a portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall. The desk, where presidents of the past have contemplated some of the most important decisions in the world’s history, was polished to a gleam. President Obama leaned against it as he talked to us.

He asked us how we became interested in science, what our plans were for the future and which colleges we were interested in. Smiling, he told us to stick with science. We left the Oval Office feeling like our individual futures were important to the nation’s future; like we could change the world.

Our trip to Washington, D.C., also included visits to the National Institute of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over our two days, we were given the opportunity to sit down and talk with many of our country’s leaders who have not only been extraordinarily successful in the fields we wish to go into in the future, but who also encouraged us to follow our own dreams. It was more than just meetings; it was inspiration.

Naomi Shah, Shree Bose and Lauren Hodge meet President Obama in the Oval Office
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

National Cyber Security Awareness Month 2011: Our Shared Responsibility

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

On the Internet, as with the offline world, the choices we make often have an impact on others. The links we share and the sites we visit can affect our security and sometimes introduce risk for people we know. Given how quickly our collective use of technology is evolving, it’s useful to periodically remind ourselves of practices that can help us achieve a more secure and enjoyable online experience.

This month, Google once again joins the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), government agencies, corporations, schools and non-profit organizations in recognizing National Cyber Security Awareness Month. It’s a time for us to offer education that increases online security for everyone.

It’s fitting that the theme of this year’s Cyber Security Awareness Month is “Our Shared Responsibility.” With ever-increasing ways to access the web and share information, we need to focus on keeping our activities secure. In that spirit, and to help kick off Cyber Security Awareness Month, we’re introducing a new Google Security Center. The Security Center is full of practical tips and information to help people stay safe online, from choosing a secure password to using 2-step verification and avoiding phishing sites and malware.

We also continue to develop products and services that help people protect their information online. Examples that have stood out so far this year include the Chromebook, 2-step verification in 40 languages, and Chrome browser warnings for malicious downloads and out-of-date plugins, among others. We develop free products and tools such as DOM Snitch, a Chrome extension that helps developers identify insecure code.

We recognize the importance of security education and are committed to helping make your online experience both exciting and safe to use. We all have a responsibility to take steps to protect ourselves and together develop a culture of security. We encourage everyone to Stop. Think. Connect.

Accessibility: A Progress Report

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have worked closely with advocacy organizations for the blind to improve our products. We have had a number of meetings with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and American Council of the Blind (ACB) to discuss planned updates, to involve their members in early product testing, and most recently at the end of August to discuss our progress. This summer, Alan Eustace, our Senior VP of Engineering, was invited to speak at the NFB’s national convention and he thanked them for sharing their constructive feedback with us. At the CSUN conference in March and the ACB conference in July, we held focus groups to better understand blind users’ experience with assistive technologies and how our products could be improved. In August, we launched a survey with the ACB to study computer usage and assistive technology patterns in the blind community.

Last month, we announced some accessibility enhancements, including improved keyboard shortcuts and support for screen readers in Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Calendar. We also hosted a public webinar to discuss how our product updates might affect users in business, government and education settings. While we hope these enhancements make it easier for people who rely on assistive technologies to work and collaborate using our products, we recognize that our work isn’t done and we remain committed to making our products more accessible.

We’re grateful for the early and supportive feedback we’ve received from our colleagues at the advocacy organizations. In a statement posted on the National Federation of the Blind’s (NFB’s) website, Mark Riccobono commented that the NFB “is pleased that Google has been actively engaged with us in their work to solve access issues... Many improvements still need to be made before Google applications are fully accessible to blind users, but the enhancements that we have seen demonstrated indicate a commitment to accessibility by Google.”

“We are pleased to see the amount of progress that Google has made over the summer to these apps,” said Eric Bridges, the Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind (ACB). “We expect to test even more improvements in the coming months. Thousands of ACB’s blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind members are eager to take advantage of the convenience and flexibility that cloud-based applications like Google Docs, Gmail, Calendar, and Spreadsheet offer. Our goal is to insure that our members don’t get left behind.”

In the coming months, we’ll continue to collaborate with advocacy organizations to improve our products for blind users. We believe that people who depend on assistive technologies deserve as rich and as productive an experience on the web as sighted users, and we’re working to help that become a reality.

For more information on our accessibility enhancements, how to send us feedback and how to track our progress, visit google.com/accessibility.

Digital due process for e-book readers

E-book sales are booming, creating new opportunity for authors and publishers. E-books have also fundamentally changed the way that readers discover and access books, opening vast libraries and making them available in the cloud via Google Books and other providers.

But the laws governing your rights as a reader haven’t evolved nearly as quickly. Forty-eight states have special “books laws” that limit when the government can compel disclosure of records regarding your book buying and reading. It’s not always clear, however, to what extent such laws apply to booksellers, including online stores.

It’s important that our laws reflect the way people live their lives today. That’s why we’re pleased to see that California signed into law the Reader Privacy Act, which clarifies the law and ensures that there are high standards before booksellers -- whether they’re selling print or digital books -- can be compelled to turn over reading records. This law takes a careful, balanced approach, protecting readers’ privacy while allowing for legitimate law enforcement access with a warrant or under specific, narrow exceptions. This bill was sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, championed by the ACLU of Northern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation, and supported by a number of others, including Google.

We believe that our laws should protect individuals from unwarranted government intrusion in the online world no less than they do in the home, library, or bookstore, even as information and computing technology continue to advance. This is why we already invoke existing “books laws” when necessary to protect readers’ privacy, and why we’ve backed laws at the federal level to update the rules that protect your data stored in the cloud.

An update on our Motorola acquisition

Since we announced our plans to acquire Motorola Mobility, we've been excited about the positive reaction to the proposed deal -- particularly from our partners who have told us that they're enthusiastic about our defense of the Android ecosystem.

And as David Drummond said when we announced our plans in August, we're confident that this deal will be approved. We believe very strongly this is a pro-competitive transaction that is good for Motorola Mobility, good for consumers, and good for our partners.

That said, we know that close scrutiny is part of the process and we've been talking to the U.S. Department of Justice over the past few weeks. Today we received what is called a "second request," which means that the DOJ is asking for more information so that they can continue to review the deal. (This is pretty routine; we’ve gotten these kind of requests before.)

While this means we won't be closing right away, we're confident that the DOJ will conclude that the rapidly growing mobile ecosystem will remain highly competitive after this deal closes. We'll be working closely and cooperatively with them as they continue their review.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate on competition

This afternoon at 2 PM E.T., Eric Schmidt will testify before the U.S. Senate to talk about Google’s approach to competition. He will deliver a simple message: we welcome competition. It makes us better. It makes our competitors better. Most importantly, it means better products for our users.

The hearing will be webcast and you can read his written and his oral testimony.

Search data reveals people turn to the Internet in crises

(Cross-posted from the Google.org blog)

People often share stories with us about the ways the Internet has helped them during natural disasters. Whether it’s accessing information about the event, communicating with loved ones during a crisis or finding out how to help respond in the aftermath, the web plays a valuable role.

We looked up some statistics from our search data for several natural disasters to get insights into this phenomenon. We see two consistent trends in search behavior and internet use in the affected areas: a substantial (and often dominant) proportion of searches are directly related to the crises; and people continue to search and access information online even while traffic and search levels drop temporarily during and immediately following the crises. While in some cases internet access is restricted due to infrastructure failures, generally Internet Service Providers continue to provide connectivity and users take advantage of it. The findings show just how resilient the internet can be in times of crises, compared to other infrastructure.

We expect these trends will continue, and to a great extent this drives the ongoing work of the Google Crisis Response team to improve the information available on the 'net during crises.

Joplin Tornado, Joplin, MO, USA, May 2011
The week of this year’s tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, searches for terms related to help, safety and recovery were significantly up from normal levels. [Disaster relief] was 2054 percent greater than normal and [FEMA], [American Red Cross], and [National Weather Service] showed increases of 400-1000%. Despite the tragedy, in which 25 percent of the town was destroyed and 75 percent damaged, we still saw search traffic at 58 percent of normal levels the day of the tornado, and an immediate recovery toward normal Internet traffic occured within a day of the event.

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, LA, USA, August 2005
During Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest U.S. disasters in recent memory, terms like [new orleans], [hurricane] and [katrina] topped search queries while search queries for resource providers like FEMA and the American Red Cross grew the fastest, according to our data. Even as 90% of the population was evacuated from New Orleans, we still saw search traffic at more than 50 percent of normal in Louisiana and 20% of normal in New Orleans, based on the previous five-day average.

The Internet has proven to be an essential resource during natural disasters internationally as well.

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Northern Coast, Japan, March, 2011
During the Japan earthquake and tsunami, searches for earthquake information and impacts including terms like [outage], [tokyo electric power] and [rolling blackouts] gew the fasted and also topped the list of most searched queries across Japan. In fact, even in the hardest hit areas, where mobile and landline communications were disrupted, Internet services were largely unaffected. During this time, people entered 620,000 records into Google Person Finder, a tool developed by the Google Crisis Response team to help people find missing friends and loved ones in the aftermath of such disasters.

Chile Earthquake, Maule Chile, February 2010
Immediately following the earthquake, people searching online were actively looking for earthquake information; earthquake and news source search terms became eight of the top 10 queries. [Terremoto] was the most searched term, and two online news sources, Terra and Emol, and the National Office for Emergencies [onemi] also appeared as top keywords. While there was no search traffic for 15 minutes after the earthquake, within one day searches had recovered to 25 percent of normal traffic, and search traffic returned to pre-earthquake levels within just four days.

Haiti Earthquake, Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, January 2010
The month of the Haiti earthquake, [seisme]—or “earthquake”—was the fastest-growing search term, and it continued its surface as a frequently searched term for almost two months after the earthquake. In the capital city of Port-Au-Prince, at the center of the earthquake, search traffic stopped momentarily, but did not completely disappear even when the three submarine Internet cables were cut as a result of the earthquake. As outlined by this U.S. Department of Homeland Security Communications Summary, Internet Service Providers were able to quickly reroute connections through a microwave relay wireless communication between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This allowed traffic to return to rise within one day, and reach normal levels within a few months, despite ongoing damage to the city and country’s infrastructure.

We’re excited about continuing our work to create and support products that make the Internet even more useful to people looking for information and communication during crises.

Making Copyright Work Better Online: A Progress Report

In December, we announced four initiatives to tackle the problem of copyright infringement online. We’ve made considerable progress on each front, and we will continue to evolve our efforts in all four areas in the months to come.

  • Acting on reliable copyright takedown requests within 24 hours. We promised to build tools to make it easier for rightsholders to submit DMCA takedown requests for Google products (starting with Blogger and Web Search), and to reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less for submissions using these new tools. We built the tools earlier this year, and they are now being successfully used by more than a dozen content industry partners who together account for more than 75% of all URLs submitted in DMCA takedowns for Web Search. Our response time for these partners is now well below the 24 hour target. In the coming months, we will be making these tools available more broadly to those who have established a track record of submitting valid takedown requests.

  • Preventing terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete. Beginning in January, we started filtering terms closely associated with infringement from Google Autocomplete, our feature that predicts search queries based on popular searches from other users.

  • Improving our AdSense anti-piracy review. We have always prohibited the use of our AdSense program on web pages that provide infringing materials, and we routinely terminate publishers who violate our policies. In recent months, we have worked hard to improve our internal enforcement procedures. In April, we were among the first companies to certify compliance in the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB’s) Quality Assurance Certification program, through which participating advertising companies will take steps to enhance buyer control over the placement and context of advertising and build brand safety. In addition, we have invited rightsholder associations to identify their top priority sites for immediate review, and have acted on those tips when we have received them.

  • Improving visibility of authorized preview content in search results. We have launched Music Rich Snippets, which allow legitimate music sites to highlight content in the snippets that appear in Google’s Web Search results. Rhapsody and MySpace are among the first to implement this feature, which has been developed using open web markup standards, and we are looking forward to more sites and search engines marking up their pages. We hope that authorized music sites will take advantage of Music Rich Snippets to make their preview content stand out in search results.

These four initiatives have been an important part of our work combating piracy these last several months, but we’ve been pursuing other avenues as well.  We continue to believe that making high-value content available in authorized forms is a crucial part of the battle against online infringement. We have expanded our movie rental services on YouTube and launched the Google eBookstore, featuring a wide array of books from authors and publishers. We also continue to improve YouTube’s Content ID system to help more copyright owners (including song-writers and music publishers) to monetize their works and are working with WIPO on a rights registry that will help African musicians license their works. 

There is plenty more to be done, and we look forward to further refining and improving our processes in ways that help both rightsholders and users.