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.