What happened at the CLIC Festival?

I had understood that the CLIC Festival was to be a forum for proposals, not complaints, and that participants were welcome from all sectors -- civil society, the government, etc. As such, I wrote an article for a conference issue of Cuba Voices.

In keeping with the theme, I concluded with a specific, short-term proposal: that INFOMED be given immediate access to the ALBA-1 cable, allowing them to provide Spanish language medical and health care education online. (It was similar to the proposal in this post).

I was on vacation and disconnected from the Internet at the time of the conference, so missed the news while it was going on. I just returned, and, in searching online for news of the conference, find only the usual political discussion.

What about the conference content as opposed to the politics -- what actually went on? Were there other proposals? Was there any government participation? Will there be a published proceedings? Were any conclusions or recommendations reached?

Safe Browsing—protecting web users for five years and counting

In this post, we've collected some highlights from the past five years of our Safe Browsing efforts, aimed at keeping people safe online. See the Security Blog for the full details and more visuals. -Ed.

Five years ago, we launched Safe Browsing, an initiative designed to keep people safe from malicious content online. Our primary goal was to safeguard Google's search results against malware (software capable of taking control of your computer) and phishing (fraudulent websites that entice users to give up their personal information). We also wanted to help educate webmasters on how to protect their own sites.

Malware and phishing are still big problems online, but our Safe Browsing team has labored continuously to adapt to the rising challenges of new threats. We've also developed an infrastructure that automatically detects harmful content around the globe.

Here’s a look at the highlights from our efforts over the past five years:
  • We protect 600 million users through built-in protection for Chrome, Firefox and Safari, where we show several million security warnings every day to Internet users. When we detect malware or phishing, we trigger a red warning screen that discourages clicking through to the website. Our free and public Safe Browsing API allows other organizations to keep their users safe by using the data we’ve compiled.
  • We find about 9,500 new malicious websites every day and show warnings to protect users. These are either innocent websites that have been compromised by malware authors, or others that are built specifically for malware distribution or phishing. Our detection techniques are highly accurate—we have had only a handful of false positives.
  • Approximately 12-14 million Google Search queries per day warn users about current malware threats, and we provide malware warnings for about 300 thousand downloads per day through our download protection service for Chrome.
  • We send thousands of notifications daily to webmasters. When webmasters sign up for Webmaster Tools we give them the option to receive warning notices if we find something malicious on their site.
Malware and phishing aren’t completely solvable problems because threats continue to evolve, but our technologies and processes do, too.

Phishing and malware trends
Online commerce sites are still favorite phishing targets because phishers are motivated by money. Some tried-and-true phishing methods are still used, but attacks are also getting more creative and sophisticated. Attacks are faster, with phishers sometimes remaining online for less than an hour to try to avoid detection. They’re also more geographically dispersed and are getting more targeted.

Malware authors often compromise legitimate sites to deliver content from a malicious attack site or to redirect to an attack site. These attack sites will often deliver "drive-by downloads" to visitors, which launch and run malware programs on their computers without their knowledge. To try to avoid detection, these attack sites adopt several techniques, such as rapidly changing their Internet location with free web hosting services and auto-generated domain names. Although less common than drive-by downloads, we’re also seeing more malware authors bypassing software vulnerabilities altogether and instead employing methods to try to trick users into installing malicious software—for example, fake anti-virus software.

How you can help prevent malware and phishing
Our system is designed to protect users at high volumes, but people still need to take steps to keep their computers safe. Ignoring a malware problem is never a good idea—if one of our warnings pop up, you should never click through to the suspicious site. Webmasters can help protect their visitors by signing up for malware warnings at Google Webmaster Tools. These warnings are free and will help us inform them if we find suspicious code on their sites. Finally, everyone can help make our system better. You can opt-in to send additional data to our team that helps us expand the coverage of Safe Browsing.

Looking forward
Some of our recent work to counter new forms of abuse includes:
It’s a good feeling to know that we’re making the web more secure and directly protecting people from harm—whether they’re our users or not. We continue to invest heavily in the Safe Browsing team so we can defend against current and future security threats.

(Cross-posted on the Official Google Blog)

More transparency into government requests

About two years ago, we launched our interactive Transparency Report. We started by disclosing data about government requests. Since then, we’ve been steadily adding new features, like graphs showing traffic patterns and disruptions to Google services from different countries. And just a couple weeks ago, we launched a new section showing the requests we get from copyright holders to remove search results.

The traffic and copyright sections of the Transparency Report are refreshed in near-real-time, but government request data is updated in six-month increments because it’s a people-driven, manual process. Today we’re releasing data showing government requests to remove blog posts or videos or hand over user information made from July to December 2011.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.

This is the fifth data set that we’ve released. And just like every other time before, we’ve been asked to take down political speech. It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect—Western democracies not typically associated with censorship.

For example, in the second half of last year, Spanish regulators asked us to remove 270 search results that linked to blogs and articles in newspapers referencing individuals and public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors. In Poland, we received a request from a public institution to remove links to a site that criticized it. We didn’t comply with either of these requests.

In addition to releasing new data today, we’re also adding a feature update which makes it easier to see in aggregate across countries how many removals we performed in response to court orders, as opposed to other types of requests from government agencies. For the six months of data we’re releasing today, we complied with an average of 65% of court orders, as opposed to 47% of more informal requests.

We’ve rounded up some additional interesting facts in the annotations section of the Transparency Report. We realize that the numbers we share can only provide a small window into what’s happening on the Web at large. But we do hope that by being transparent about these government requests, we can continue to contribute to the public debate about how government behaviors are shaping our Web.

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

In Support of Legislative Transparency

Google believes that policy-making should be grounded in sound analysis of data. We take this to heart -- it’s why we launch tools like the Transparency Report, which shows when and what information is accessible on Google services around the world. Similarly, when governments are transparent with their legislative data, their citizens can be more active participants in the political process.

Last year, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives identified transparency as one of its top priorities, and since then it has taken several steps towards becoming more open. The House now streams and archives video of committee hearings, and it shares draft legislation for public consultation online.

As part of its ongoing effort to promote openness and transparency, the House of Representatives voted for an appropriations bill that directs a task force to examine and expedite the process of disclosing large amounts of legislative data to the public. Even before the bill was passed, Congressional leadership issued a statement on the importance of transparency and requested for the task force to begin its work immediately.

We believe the ability to download bulk legislative data in formats like XML on a regular basis provides tremendous benefits. Website and app developers can use such data to provide up-to-date information on bills. Researchers can use it to perform studies. And politically-curious citizens can use it to follow legislation moving its way through Congress.

We've seen positive transparency efforts throughout the U.S. government. The White House, for one, recently issued a Digital Government Strategy that called for data from offices in the executive branch to be made more easily accessible by application developers.

New information platforms make it easier for the American public to watch and participate in their government, which strengthens the political process as a whole. We applaud Congress for the work that it's done to promote openness and look forward to a future of increased legislative transparency.

Ads Integrity Alliance: Working together to fight bad ads

Today StopBadware is announcing the formation of an industry partnership to combat bad ads. We’re pleased to be a founding member of the Ads Integrity Alliance, along with AOL, Facebook, Twitter and the IAB.

Since its beginnings in 2006, StopBadware has enabled many websites, service providers and software providers to share real-time information in order to warn users and significantly eliminate malware (such as viruses, phishing sites and malicious downloads) on the web. We believe that the Ads Integrity Alliance can make a similarly important contribution to the goal of identifying and removing bad ads from all corners of the web.

In 2011, Google alone disabled more than 130 million ads and 800,000 advertisers that violated our policies on our own and partners’ sites, such as ads that promote counterfeit goods and malware. You can read more about our efforts to review ads and also see the numbers over time. Other players in the industry also have significant initiatives in this area. But when Google or another website shuts down a bad actor, that scammer often simply tries to advertise elsewhere.

No individual business or law enforcement agency can single-handedly eliminate these bad actors from the entire web. As StopBadware has shown, the best way to tackle common problems across a highly interconnected web, and to move the whole web forward, is for the industry to work together, build best practices and systems, and make information sharing simple.

The alliance led by StopBadware will help the industry fight back together against scammers and bad actors. In particular, it will:
  • Develop and share definitions, industry policy recommendations and best practices
  • Serve as a platform for sharing information about bad actors
  • Share relevant trends with policymakers and law enforcement agencies
Bad ads reduce trust in the web and in online advertising. The web puts the world’s information at your fingertips and has given everyone a platform to speak, listen, engage and unite. The growth that businesses generate from online advertising has enabled an enormous part of this platform. We think the web is worth fighting for, which is why we strongly support the Ads Integrity Alliance’s efforts to tackle bad actors who seek to damage it.

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

Google at Rio+20

Cross-posted from the Google Green Blog.

This month, heads of state, NGOs, scientists and business leaders from around the world will meet to discuss how best to reduce poverty, advance social equity and better protect the environment at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20.

As a company that believes deeply in sustainability, we wouldn’t miss this for the world. So from June 13 - 22, a group of Googlers from our Google Earth Outreach and Google Earth Engine teams will be joining many of our partners, including Chief Almir Surui, The Jane Goodall Institute, Imazon, Aliança de Terra, Amazon Sustainable Foundation and others to show how technology can support the conference’s core themes.

We’ll be posting updates on the Google Green Blog from the conference throughout the week, but we thought we’d offer a quick preview of how we’ll be participating:

  • Wednesday, June 13th - Friday, June 22nd: We invite all conference attendees to visit us at our booth in the Rio State Government Pavilion at Athletes’ Park. You’ll be able to tour the Earth and beyond in our Liquid Galaxy, an immersive Google Earth experience, and explore some of the work our partners have created using Google tools. 
  • Friday, June 15th: Ronaldo Barreto, Strategic Partner Manager for Latin America, will participate in Megacities Forum 2012, at a roundtable on “Future Cities and the Use of New Transport Technologies.” Ronaldo will show how tools such as Google Maps, Google Transit and Google Street View are being used to modernize Rio de Janeiro’s transportation infrastructure. 
  • Friday, June 15th: Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager for Google Earth Engine and Google Earth Outreach, will speak at “No Roads to a Green Economy: Mapping Earth´s roadless areas and their services,” a discussion at the European Union Pavilion about the need to promote roadless areas as a means to conserve biodiversity and secure the rights of indigenous people.
  • Saturday, June 16th: Rebecca Moore will be joining Chief Almir Surui at the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum to share the latest news regarding our ongoing partnership with the Surui tribe. 
  • Sunday, June 17th: We’ll be holding an SD-Learning event, “From the Ground to the Cloud: New Tools for Sustainable Development,” which will be introduced by Brazilian Senator Eduardo Braga and will feature a presentation from Imazon on their work to create a deforestation monitoring system for Brazil, powered by Google Earth Engine. (Registration has closed for this event.) 
  • Monday, June 18th: All visitors to Rio+20 are welcome to join our Side Event, "Tools for Data Collection and Mapping: the Ground to the Cloud Story" at the Arena de Barra. We’ll be hearing from a number of partners about they work they’re doing with Google tools. Among others, the Jane Goodall Institute and Woods Hole Research Center will share their work estimating forest biomass over Tanzania with Google Earth Engine, and Aliança da Terra will talk about how their use of Open Data Kit and Google Maps Engine has transformed their operations. 
  • Tuesday, June 19th: we’ll be at the U.S. Government Pavilion to participate in panel discussions and demonstrations of our work with the Governor’s Forest and Climate Taskforce. 
These are only a few examples of the fascinating ways technology can help address some of our world’s most pressing challenges. Stay tuned for updates throughout the conference about the news our partners are sharing, and if you have any thoughts about how technology can help save the world -- or at least help us all be more environmentally responsible and support a sustainable future, let us know at #googleatrio20.

New Cuban ICT statistics

New government statitics on information and communication technology are out.  I'm travelling now, but will check them out when I get back.

The CLIC Festival

Ted Henken alerted me to the CLIC Festival on new technologies and social networks, which will be held in Havana from June 21 to 23. It is to be a forum for proposals, not complaints, and participants are welcome from civil society, the government or elsewhere.

I will be travelling and unable to follow the event, but you can read about it here.

Setting the record straight: competition in search

Search is about helping people find the right answers to their questions when and where they need them. We work hard every day to figure out the most useful results for our users, and we’re working to create new and better ways to answer your questions. We know that if we don’t give users the best results, people can and will switch to another search engine.

And while we’re always happy to have feedback about how we can improve, it’s more useful if that feedback is based on facts. In today’s Wall Street Journal, the CEO of comparison shopping site Nextag makes several claims that are wrong -- or suggests that Google start doing things that we already do. Let me set the record straight:

Claim: “Most people believe that when they type "convection microwave oven" or "biking shorts" into Google, they will receive a list of the most relevant sites. Not true. That's how Google used to work. Now, when someone searches for these items, the most prominent results are displayed because companies paid Google for that privilege.”
Fact: Let me be very clear: our unpaid, natural search results are never influenced by payment. Our algorithms rank results based only on what the most relevant answers are for users -- which might be a direct answer or a competitor’s website. Our ads and commercial experiences are clearly labeled and distinct from the unpaid results, and we recently announced new improvements to labeling of shopping results. This is in contrast to most comparison shopping sites, which receive payment from merchants but often don’t clearly label search results as being influenced by payment.

Claim: “It's easy to see when Google makes changes to its algorithms that effectively punish its competitors, including us.”
Fact: As we’ve said many times before, we built search to help users, not websites. We don’t make changes to our algorithms to hurt competitors. We make more than 500 changes a year (each one scientifically evaluated) in order to deliver the most useful results for our users - and we now publish a monthly list of algorithm improvements. Every one of those changes moves some websites up and some sites down in the rankings, but the most important thing is that users are happy with the results.

Claim: “[Google] has used its position to bend the rules to help maintain its online supremacy, including the use of sophisticated algorithms weighted in favor of its own products and services at the expense of search results that are truly most relevant.”
Fact: Our algorithms are always designed to give users the most relevant results -- and sometimes the best result isn’t a website, but a map, a weather forecast, a fact, a quick answer, or specialized image, shopping, flight, or movie results. And that’s not just Google; Bing, Yahoo and other search engines do the same thing.

Claim: “Google should provide consumers with access to the unbiased search results it was once known for—regardless of which company or organization owns the service. It should also allow users to reduce the number of ads shown or incorporate a user's preferred services in search results.
Fact: All major search engines -- including Bing and Yahoo -- long ago evolved beyond the simple “ten blue links,” and we believe that our users are often best served by providing better answers directly in search results. And if users don’t like our results, they can try Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, or even Google Minus Google.

Claim: “Google should grant all companies equal access to advertising opportunities regardless of whether they are considered a competitor.”
Fact: We don’t prohibit competitors from advertising on Google -- in fact, many of our largest advertisers are also competitors. Our auction-based advertising system, which takes into account relevance and bids, is designed to provide a level playing field on which placement is not automatically awarded to the highest bidder.

Claim: “In addition, Google often uses its prime real estate to promote its own (often less relevant and inferior) products and services...”
Fact: It’s understandable that every website believes that it is the best, and wants to rank at the top of Google results. The great thing about the openness of the Internet is that if users don’t find our results relevant and useful, they can easily navigate to Nextag, Amazon, Yelp, Bing or any other website. 

There has never been as much choice online as there is today. Over the last few years, we’ve faced competition from new players, including social networks, mobile apps, and specialty search sites. All that competition is a great thing for consumers, it gives you more choices and makes us work hard to deliver you even more relevant answers, day after day.

Online education -- an application for the ALBA-1 undersea cable

When the Internet was getting started in Cuba, there was a high level debate on whether to welcome or fear it. They faced the dictator's dilemma -- whether economic and cultural value of the Internet justified the political risk. Finance Minister Carlos Lage, said "yes" and Raúl Castro said "no." Raúl won.

In arguing for the Internet, Lage spoke of its economic value, comparing the cost of a telex to that of an email. He was correct, but the cost to the economy may not have been as important as the cost to the education system.

This point was brought home a year ago by Greg Sowa, a medical student from the US, who is studying in Cuba. Sowa described Cuban student access in a blog post:
Most students use their limited internet access at the school (forty minutes a week for each student, depending if you can talk your way in for some extra time) for communication. We furiously upload email attachments of letters home while copying and pasting messages from our inbox into microsoft word documents to read later, off the clock.
Compare that to a US medical student who has near-instant access to over 21 million citations for biomedical literature from PubMed, Web sites of professional societies, the National Institutes of Health, professional social networking, Google and Google Scholar, etc.

The ALBA-1 cable could help close this gap.

We have been discussing the cable lately, and it appears that it is not yet providing Internet connectivity to Cubans, but it is being tested and used used to operate the Venezuelan ID system. Writers like Yoani Sanchez attribute the lack of cable connectivity to political fear, and they may be correct, but, even if the government wanted wide-spread access, the domestic infrastructure to support it is not in place and Cuba cannot afford it. The cable may be operating, but there is little modern "middle mile" and "last mile" infrastructure.

Since Cuba cannot afford general high-speed connectivity, they must use the cable selectively, and higher education would be a good place to begin. Students like Greg Sowa would obviously benefit, but so would faculty. Furthermore, education could be a source of revenue.

The online education market is taking off, and universities, non-profits, private companies and venture capitalists are vying for a place in that new, global marketplace.

There is considerable diversity among the offerings and the student goals, but, the majority of current offerings are in English, leaving an opportunity for Spanish language material. Cuba could be in a good position to satisfy that need. For example, Cuba has considerable medical expertise. If they upgraded the Infomed network and connected it to the cable, they could offer medical education in Spanish and tailored to the needs of Latin America and the Caribbean.

My own university provides an example of the sort of thing that could be done. We offer a state-wide nursing program online. The program is successful and has been running for several years. Cuba could be in a postion to do something similar (perhaps even in collaboration with our nursing program).

Computer science is another promising area. The most visible and largest online classes to date have been in computer science. Elite schools like Stanford, MIT and the Indian Institutes of Technology are going online. Cuba has a specialized University of Informatics Science (UCI). Could UCI not do the same?

Cuba cannot afford to connect everyone on the island, and would not want to if they could. This sort of focus -- where Cuban expertise is applied toward a postive social goal that also generates revenue -- may be a way to bootstrap Cuba's entry into the Internet era.

Update 11/7/2013

Writing in The Havana Times, Alfredo Fernandez, a Cuban who is now in Ecuador, asks "why are there no Cuban academic videos on the Internet?" (http://bit.ly/1bcXvgb)

He goes on to say:
After a simple study based on everyday observations, I am quite surprised that, in the six months I have been searching for materials on YouTube – about subjects as broad-ranging as literature, philosophy, journalism, film and many others – I have not once come upon a single Cuban video.