By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, April 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
The next ‘big one’: not an earthquake, but a collapse of the digital network that’s become central to our lives
It’s early on a weekday morning, in the not-too-distant future, and a packed commuter train is speeding toward a large North American city when the Internet cuts out. It’s more than just an inconvenience for riders checking their email. This train and the tracks are part of the Internet, too—fitted with computers and sensors to monitor and control the location and speed of trains, and linking every bit of transport infrastructure across the continent to the web. With the system disabled, the train is suddenly out of control.
In the city, the water supply system, automated and synched to a central, digital command centre, also fails in the Internet outage. Switches—built to shut off water when there’s a leak—spring into action and taps everywhere run dry. Above ground, the online network linking every car, truck, bus and taxi malfunctions, as do the sensors that turn lights red and green depending on traffic flows, plunging roads into gridlock. Police cars, ambulances and emergency services, each reliant on the city’s suddenly blacked-out information network, remain parked and useless.
Across the city, people are locked out of (or even in) their homes. The web-enabled security systems that people use to lock and unlock their doors have also failed. At the grocery store, there’s no way to buy food without cash: Internet payment systems go black.
This is the next “big one.” Not an earthquake, but a collapse of the digital network that is increasingly becoming a critical part of day-to-day life, linking together every item and service we use. And while such a failure may sound improbable, security and technology experts say that few people realize just how vulnerable society has already become.
The Internet is now being wired into everything. Cisco estimates 50 billion “things” will be linked to the web by 2020. “When I walk around the street, all I see are networks,” says Cisco senior vice-president and head of the company’s enterprise networking group, Rob Soderbery. “Every electronic billboard, every roadside sensor, every toll booth, every vehicle, every truck, every police car. Think about everything you see in that daily life as being integrated into the network.” Networked trains, web-enabled cars that rely on downloadable software fixes, and smart homes that are run via iPad are already a reality. “Everything around us is acquiring CPUs and communications,” adds Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University. “Pretty well everything you buy for more than 10 bucks and don’t eat or drink will be ‘smart’ in some sense.”
We have already seen how even minor glitches in these systems can cause big headaches. In 1999, Internet service, phone lines, payment systems and traffic lights across a large swath of downtown Toronto crashed for a day—all because a technician at a Bell switching centre dropped a wrench, which started a fire, which also brought down power to a hospital and stripped an estimated $1 billion in trades at the Toronto Stock Exchange.
In the past year alone, a cut cable triggered a Sprint Internet outage that grounded Alaska Airlines flights in the western U.S., payment processing problems brought down Visa services in Canada, and Netflix’s hugely popular system crashed due to a software bug. Last week, American Airlines’ entire fleet was grounded for hours due to a glitch in the company’s reservation system.
Malicious attacks are just as common, targeting everything from newspapers, including the New York Times and companies like Telvent, which provides control systems for Alberta oil and gas pipelines. In March, a hacker attack simultaneously crippled South Korea’s main broadcasters and biggest banks, and earlier this month, police in Egypt arrested three men who were allegedly trying to sabotage a critical undersea Internet cable.
Last October, the U.S. secretary of defense said American infrastructure is vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” “This is the pre-9/11 moment,” Leon Panetta said at a gala in New York. “An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”
The risks of a breakdown (whether by simple failure or sophisticated hacker attack) are rising exponentially as more services are shifted to the web. Cloud computing, in which companies outsource hardware and some software needs to server farms all over the world, was a $60-billion industry in 2012, says the research company IDC. Microsoft’s cloud-computing customers reportedly include Aer Lingus, Dow Chemical and the University of Georgia. The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ use cloud computing. Even governments are getting on board: Canada has been examining ways to grow reliance on cloud computing, and in March, reports surfaced that Amazon is building a “private” cloud for the CIA.
But cloud computing, like the rest of the digital world, has its vulnerabilities. The European Union’s security agency, ENISA, issued a report this year warning that cloud computing is a double-edged sword. “If an outage or a security breach occurs, the consequence could be big” across critical sectors like finance, energy, transport and even government services, the report cautioned. It called on the EU to monitor attacks and require companies to report outages and security breaches. Andrew Rose, a security analyst for the research firm Forrester, has argued that this hyper-networked future will lead to “unprecedented security challenges.”
Carlo Ratti, the director of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, argues the nature of security challenges is not changing, just their effect. “The impact of possible security breaches can be more devastating because it’s not only digital, but it’s digital and physical,” he says. “If your computer catches a virus, you might not work for one day. But if your car, which is getting more and more like a computer on wheels, catches a virus, just a simple one that switches the pedal with the brake, then you’re in trouble.”
Given the speed that our reliance on the web is growing, we may not grasp the risks until it’s too late, Ratti says. But governments are trying. Leon Panetta’s fiery warning last fall was followed up with a cybersecurity executive order from U.S. President Barack Obama, announced during the state of the union address in February, which will result in sharing information between public and private sectors to increase cybersecurity.
In 2010, the Canadian government allocated $155 million over five years to beef up cybersecurity efforts, much of which went to the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre (CCIRC). But last year, a critical report by the auditor general found that the centre, seven years after it was formed, “cannot fully monitor Canada’s cyberthreat environment” because various departments and companies aren’t fully co-operating with the centre, or even aware of its mandate. There’s a “tremendous fragmentation” between government departments and industry, which hold the Internet traffic data, and the CCIRC, which needs access to it, says Rafal Rohozinski, one of the country’s leading cybersecurity experts.
The audit didn’t examine the government’s response or recovery plan for a cyberattack, which alongside earthquakes, floods and pandemics falls under the public safety department’s Government Operations Centre. Rohozinski questions whether there is such a national plan for a massive digital failure. He says Canada “lags behind” other nations.
At a cybersecurity conference in October, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told delegates his government has “worked closely with our partners to enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure like power grids, financial systems and transport networks.” Meanwhile, the CCIRC doesn’t even operate on a 24-7 basis—it’s open 15 hours, seven days a week. Rohozinski says Canadians are blind to their reliance on this infrastructure. “We don’t realize our dependence.”
Other countries do. Thanks in part to the Stuxnet virus, which infiltrated an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010, “Iran has a better overall government plan for dealing with cyberincidences than does Canada,” he says. But waiting for the “big one” in order to act carries its own risk. “What’s going to be the effect of a catastrophic effect in cyberspace?” he asks. “No one knows.” But it’s pretty scary to imagine.
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 5:59 AM - 0 Comments
BEIJING, China – China’s population of Internet users rose 10 per cent last year…
BEIJING, China – China’s population of Internet users rose 10 per cent last year to 564 million, driven by explosive growth in the popularity of mobile Web surfing.
The country’s Internet industry group reported Tuesday that the country added 51 million new Internet users last year, a number bigger than the population of Spain.
Chinese leaders encourage Internet use for business and education but try to block access to material considered subversive or obscene and are tightening controls. A law enacted last month requires users to register their names following online complaints about official abuses that rattled communist leaders.
The China Internet Network Information Center said the number of Chinese Web surfers who go online from mobile phones, tablet computers and other wireless rose 18.1 per cent last year to 420 million.
By David Newland - Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Add doughnuts, stir heartstrings, and let simmer in social media til piping hot
What makes a great viral video? Wouldn’t a million social marketers love to know. But if Old men singing at Tim Horton’s (sic) isn’t an example of a sure-fire hit, I don’t know what is.
Now, you may be wondering why a dozen or so men of retirement age, singing Can You Feel The Love Tonight in a coffee shop in Oakville, Ont., filmed by an amateur on a cellphone, has the makings of a Canadian web sensation. (I’m sure you’re wondering, if you are one of the guys in the video.)
Consider it an object lesson in how the web works in the age of social media. Here’s what makes this video a sensation in the making:
1. Location. As in the fast food business, so in the viral video business: the secret to success is location, location, location. If you’re looking to tug the heartstrings of Canadians, start someplace that has emotional resonance—real, or marketed, it doesn’t matter much, as long as it’s Tim Hortons. (Can you picture this at KFC?)
2. Story. Content is king, goes an old online marketing expression (is that a contradiction in terms?). In this case, the “content” is a heartwarming little tale about a talented bunch of ungrumpy old men. Instead of shaking their fists at kids playing road hockey, or running for the Conservative party, these guys sing. What a novel idea. We can sell that.
3. Familiarity. You know these fellows. You’ve seen them at your local Tim Hortons, endlessly taking up tables in the corner and talking baseball/convertbiles/politics, or whatever. Sober, avuncular, maybe a bit corny, churchy, and straight-seeming. It all works, because…
4. Surprise! As above, this is a scene we’ve all seen before—except the part where a bunch of bucket-listers break into a torch song by the world’s most famous gay guy, from a beloved Disney family musical, and absolutely nail it.
5. Optimism. The notion that a bunch of older gentlemen somewhere, sometimes just break out into song together hearkens to a (probably imaginary) simpler time, like the Fifties. As such, the video offers an antidote to the often dull, depressing suburban world many of us live in. Some call this stuff “glurge,” and depending on your taste it may or may not work for you. But trust me, they eat it up in internetland.
6. Authenticity. The first thing I did on investigating this video was to contact the guy who made it, to make sure he wasn’t in the marketing department at Tim Hortons. He’s not, at least not unless he’s a compulsive liar. He’s an ordinary dude named Danfi Parker, a biblical studies student and soccer player. He just wandered into a Tim’s one night, saw something cool go down, shot it, and shared it. You can’t imitate that. (Though Tim Hortons would be wise to capitalize on it.)
7. Shareability. Danfi Parker tried to post the video to Facebook right after he shot it on Monday night, just to show his friends. The file was too big, so he put it on YouTube. I saw it on Facebook a few days later, at which point it had more than a thousand views. I watched it, gave it a thumbs-up, and sent a link to my dad. (A hundred guys are sending it to their dads right now.) I also sent it to my friends, by email, my “friends” by Facebook, and my “followers” by Twitter. So did a lot of people. Cha-ching.
8. Quality. Spontaneous as it may be, quality is still at the heart of this video. Any old group of geezers wheezing any old song couldn’t pull this off. These guys are good. They’re a real group, The Entertainers. They do gigs. And they’re doing a great rendition of a nice arrangement of a superbly written, popular, familiar song from a much-loved production.
9. Validation. Ironically enough, the secret ingredient that makes a feel-good organic grassroots video truly viral, is major media support. And that’s where this article becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: your friendly neighbourhood freelancer trolling the web for stories feels the tug at his heartstrings, makes a quick phone call to the video’s author, cobbles together a pitch to his editor, taps away at the keyboard for a few hours, and whammo… we’re on the home page, baby, watching the clicks roll in.
Danfi Parker may not be able to cash in on his efforts, and I bet The Entertainers still paid for their coffees, but this stuff is gold for online media outlets. Not to mention a certain doughtnut chain. And, um, me.
And there you have it: nine quick steps to Internet success. Somebody book that band, will you? Or at least buy them a box of Timbits. My conscience is killing me.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 10:29 AM - 0 Comments
I usually shy away from sci-fi forecasting and focus, instead, on technological miracles that exist today. By those standards, this item sort of qualifies: DroneNet. It’ll be as BIG as the Internet, according to the concept’s CAPS-happy founder, John Robb.
Robb is a pilot/military analyst/entrepreneur/author, and if you have a minute when you’re done reading this, read up on him, it’s fun. DroneNet is his term for, yes, an Internet of drones, or “a short-distance drone delivery service built on an open protocol.” The most interesting part of this idea is that, technically, it could exist today.
Quadrotors travel short distances relatively quickly and use little power. They can lift small loads and follow precise GPS directions. So why not use them to build a global delivery network?
Imagine limitless drones, co-ordinating with each other to move small packages around short distances. Once one drops a parcel off, the network sends it to the location of the nearest next pickup, or to the nearest charging dock, if needed. And all of this happens above our heads, across what Robb describes as “uncontrolled airspace.” Robb estimates the transport cost at “probably less than $0.25 per 10 mi. or so.”
If you already own a quadrotor, you can use it right now to deliver things on a peer-to-peer basis. Commercial use, however, seems to be forbidden, at least in the U.S., which is one reason why TacoCopter never got off the ground.
But DroneNet is different: “…millions of drones and millions of landing pads, interconnecting with each other according to simple rules and decentralized ownership.”
Like the Internet, DroneNet will rely on establishing a set of standards: standard parcel size and weight limits, standard drone specs and flight speeds, standard landing pads, standard networking protocols for drone co-ordination. Also like the Internet, DroneNet will start small, with a handful of enthusiasts paying a bit of money to add a node or two to the ever-growing network. Assumedly, the drone you release to DroneNet won’t be the drone that comes home. Pretty soon, lunch, documents, electronics, and whatever else, will be flying over our heads, 24-7.
Or maybe not.
Assuming the space over our heads is in fact “uncontrolled”, how long will it stay that way? Once an army of creepy toys begins freaking out the squares, how long until every square inch of airspace becomes regulated? The only reason the Internet was able to flourish as it did–growing too big to regulate by the time authorities wanted to regulate it–was because it’s invisible. The threat using the drones to transport drugs, or for terrorism, could be enough to squash DroneNet before it really takes off (sorry, sorry). Any drone delivery network we do eventually get will likely be highly regulated, police-monitored and corporate controlled, making it harder to scale and expensive to run.
But that’s quitter talk. I like DroneNet. I want tacos from the sky, and if someone makes it happen, I promise to cough up a few hundred bucks to add a drone to the fleet.
Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown
By Joe McDonald, The Associated Press - Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 7:13 AM - 0 Comments
BEIJING, China – China’s new communist leaders are increasing already tight controls on Internet…
BEIJING, China – China’s new communist leaders are increasing already tight controls on Internet use and electronic publishing following a spate of embarrassing online reports about official abuses.
The measures suggest China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, and others who took power in November share their predecessors’ anxiety about the Internet’s potential to spread opposition to one-party rule and their insistence on controlling information despite promises of more economic reforms.
“They are still very paranoid about the potentially destabilizing effect of the Internet,” said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “They are on the point of losing a monopoly on information, but they still are very eager to control the dissemination of views.”
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 3:03 PM - 0 Comments
A couple of years ago, I interviewed Heritage Minister James Moore about his then-pending copyright reform bill. I suggested that it would open up the gates for big music and movie companies to sue thousands of Canadians for downloading one or two files, like the companies did to more than 30,000 U.S. citizens.
Here’s what he said:
“I don’t agree… It’s not industry’s business to go out there and sue their customers. The days of Metallica going after filesharing sites are over 10 years old. There’s a new mentality.”
News came today that Voltage Pictures has demanded that Internet service provider Teksavvy surrender the names and contact information of 2,000 subscribers. TekSavvy is refusing to rat out its customers without a court order, which is likely forthcoming. We know this because TekSavvy, a small, independent ISP with pro-privacy policies, has warned its affected customers and gone public with the details on its company blog.
What makes this case different from previous requests for customer info? “The sheer volume” of infringement claims, writes TekSavvy CEO Marc Gaudrault. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Conservative MP suggests Parliament should think about dealing with anonymous Internet commenters.
One of the best ways to end on-line and electronic bullying, libel and slander would be to force people posting hurtful comments to properly identify themselves. This morning I read comments on a news story posted on an electronic news publication, many of them could only be described as hateful rants. The common denominator is that none of them identified the person that wrote them; this strikes me as something that parliament should address.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
If you expect privacy when you’re online, if you think you can anonymously use the Internet without the government finding out who you are and what you’ve accessed, then you’re being unreasonable. That’s what the Ontario Court of Appeals has said, making them the highest court in Canada to rule that privacy laws don’t protect Canadians’ names and addresses from warrantless requests by police.
The case in question, of course, involves child pornography. David Ward of Sudbury was convicted of possessing pornographic images and videos of children. Police found him after German authorities handed them an I.P. address linked to a Canadian Internet account, provided by Bell Sympatico. The cops took the I.P. number to Bell and told them it was a child porn case, and Bell handed over Ward’s name and address. With that, police were able to get a search warrant, which they used to seize Ward’s incriminating hard drive. The service agreement Ward had signed with Bell gave them the right to surrender his identity in the event of a criminal investigation, and, as we now know, no Canadian privacy law trumps that contract.
Why should we care? Locking up child porn users sounds like a good idea to most Canadians, and Ward’s case is unlikely to cause much of a stir. But that’s exactly why child porn cases are often used to set privacy-eroding precedents. Nobody wants to look like they don’t care about the suffering and exploitation of children, so it’s easy to ignore the larger implications of precedents set in the handling of pornography cases.
By Jesse Brown - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Because of the Internet. As Sabrina Maddeaux points out in the Toronto Standard, quality safeguards in newsrooms have disappeared. Fact checkers and copyeditors are scarce or non-existent, while any editors who haven’t been laid off must sign off on more copy more quickly than ever before. Legacy media institutions have been gutted by the disruptive effects of the Internet. Everyone is expected to maintain the same standards while working with a fraction of the resources. That’s simply impossible, and the fact that sloppy work sees print is an inevitable result.
But that’s just one part of it.
The Internet explains why plagiarism gets through more often than it used to, but it’s also the reason why plagiarism is so easily exposed. Tracking down a swipe used to be pretty tough. Fifteen years ago, if something you read in a column twigged as something you’d read before, how would you prove it? Unless you felt like spending a day (or a week) at the library, knee-deep in microfiche, you’d probably just let it go. Even if you were able to trace it back, the task of publicizing plagiarism would be daunting.
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
I don’t know about you, but every time I exceed my monthly Internet limit and get a hefty bill, I feel like my human rights are being violated.
On Wednesday, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos was talking about Canadian Internet providers and the low monthly usage limits they give customers at the Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment conference in Los Angeles. Here’s how he responded when asked if Netflix’s mediocre content offering in Canada was limiting the company’s growth here:
Viewing hours are almost… are very similar [in Canada] to the US. The problem in Canada is not content, the problem in Canada, which is one of our strongest markets, is they have almost third world access to the internet. Not because it’s constrained for any reason except for money. They have very low datacaps with all the broadband providers in Canada and they charge an enormous amount if you go over your broadband cap. It made us be much more innovative about compression and delivery technology so we are less broadband consumptive in Canada… It’s almost a human rights violation what they charge for internet access in Canada.
The comments took me aback when I first read them. I’m usually the first in line to point out Canada’s broadband shortcomings, but Sarandos seemed to be taking it over the top. Human rights violations? Come on. Perhaps Netflix executives should do some time in Guantanamo or try out some water boarding before they throw such accusations around.
Is expensive Internet a bad thing? Absolutely. Is it a human rights violation. Not really.
And yes, Netflix’s Canadian offerings are quite crappy. Amazingly, that hasn’t stopped the service from growing quickly here. At least 10 per cent of Canadians are subscribing while one analyst believes that number to be closer to 17 per cent.
Hyperbole aside, I wondered if there was anything to Sarandos’ comments, particularly in regards to “third-world” Internet access. I figured I’d check the numbers again.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 2:32 PM - 0 Comments
Pop quiz: which political party is promising the following?
“We will remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition”
“We will resist any effort to shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international organizations”
“We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data”
If you guessed the Pirate Party, you’re wrong. The above is part of the just-announced Republican party platform. While Obama may hang out on Reddit and Hilary Clinton may grandstand on the need for digital rights in countries other than America, the GOP is the party that has definitively pledged support for Internet freedom. We have no specific policies yet, but their platform does suggest a strong stance against the U.N. seizing control of Internet regulation, and Hollywood and telecom interference with the open Internet ( this covers Net Neutrality) as well as incursions into personal privacy. It all sounds great!
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 1:23 PM - 0 Comments
Back when I was working on my chatbot story for New Scientist magazine, futurist and Chatbots.org founder Erwin Van Lun shared with me some fascinating prediction for the future of the Internet. With anonymity enabling such things as annoying comments on news stories at one extreme and chatbot scams and terrorism organization at the other, Van Lun believes we’re moving toward a world where everyone will have to prove their identity to get on the Internet in the first place.
“Governments are responsible for citizens and issue them passports to travel the world, they should also say ‘we are responsible for your behaviour on the Internet, so we will issue you an Internet passport’, ” he says. “That’s where it’s heading to.”
It’s an intriguing premise that is sure to rile free speech advocates – and to be sure, there are many good reasons to preserve online anonymity – but it does look like things are heading that way. YouTube, a cesspool of anonymous troll commentary, was just the latest recently to make the move toward using real names.
By Angelina Chapin - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
The one-time star of the dot-com era tries to figure out what to be as it grows up
For Ted Mirsky, Yahoo! is a party trick. When his friends or co-workers are stumped by a question, the 27-year-old self-described “early adopter” from Ottawa often says: “Hold up, I’ll Yahoo! it,” and pulls out his phone. “Some people get it—and some people go, ‘Huh?! Don’t you use Google by now?’ ” says Mirsky. “It’s a go-to bit of mine.”
While not everyone would consider Yahoo! the butt of a joke—especially not the 700 million who use it worldwide each month to check their email or browse news headlines—Mirsky’s sarcastic gag hits on the company’s biggest problem: people don’t know what it does well. Google does search, Facebook does social networking, eBay does e-commerce. What about Yahoo!? Even former CEO Carol Bartz struggled with the question when hired in 2009. After talking to users worldwide she concluded it was people’s “home on the Internet,” a nebulous description that only confirmed the brand’s identity problem.
Surprisingly, the 18-year-old company still has a stubborn fan base that no doubt feels a mix of brand loyalty and resistance to change. Yahoo! is the No. 1 U.S. site by comScore in 10 content categories, with sports and finance the most popular. Its second-quarter earnings were announced in June and, despite a slide of 4.4 per cent from the year before, revenue is still $1.2 billion. The problem is the future—if the answer to Yahoo!’s identity crisis is that it’s a content company, it’s one that has not shown an ability to innovate. And without that, its continued prospects on the Internet look grim.
By Peter Nowak - Monday, July 30, 2012 at 10:04 AM - 0 Comments
There was a time, not so long ago, when Google was the internet activist’s best friend. Through much of its first decade of existence, the search engine company presented itself as a different kind of company, one that cared about changing the world for the better first and making money second, an ethos exemplified through its famous “don’t be evil” motto.
It wasn’t just empty words; Google talked the talk too. The search company was one of the most vocal supporters of net neutrality and openness in wireless, going so far as to bid billions of dollars to ensure that people could use whatever devices and apps they wanted on whatever networks they wanted.
But in recent years, something changed. The company compromised in the fight for net neutrality by partnering with wireless carrier Verizon. While the move was seen as prudent by some, others thought it was a betrayal; that Google’s desire to get wireless carriers to support its Android phones led it to become a “surrender monkey,” a charge that irked some of the company’s principals.
Since then, Google has been shoveling increasing amounts of money into government lobbying, but has been notably quieter in the public domain on such issues. It did speak up on the Stop Online Piracy Act earlier this year, but for the most part Google has been focusing its public muscle on un-controversial projects like augmented reality glasses and robot cars.
Simmering in the background for the past two years, however, has been a plan to build a super-fast broadband network that would really put Google’s money where its mouth is. The idea, when it was unveiled in 2010, was to create a fiber network capable of gigabit speeds–or at least 100 times faster than what’s on offer anywhere in North America–at a reasonable cost with unlimited usage. The company kicked off a sweepstakes between U.S. cities and towns by promising to bring this cutting-edge broadband to them.
By Blog of Lists - Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 9:44 AM - 0 Comments
1. Star Wars Kid
In 2002, Ghyslain Raza of Trois-Rivières, Que., made Internet history by leaping around with a makeshift light saber. He needed psychiatric care for all the subsequent bullying, and his parents sued the families of the classmates who leaked the video. It’s been viewed an estimated one billion times.
2. Walk off the Earth
The indie band from Burlington, Ont., who covered Gotye’s Somebody That I Used to Know—with all five band members playing one guitar—earned a record deal, and inspired a parody song during the Vancouver Canucks brief 2012 playoff run. YouTube views: 113 million.
3. Ultimate Dog Tease
Halifax comedian Andrew Grantham gave voice to a German shepherd being teased with meat, and it became Canada’s second-most-watched YouTube video of 2011 (Rebecca Black’s Friday was No. 1). YouTube views: 108 million.
4. Lady Gaga Girl
With just a piano and her powerful voice, 10-year-old Maria Aragon recorded herself singing Lady Gaga’s Born this Way last year and got a flood of online attention, including from Gaga herself. A chain of Philippine malls later hired Aragon as their holiday season spokesperson. YouTube views: 51 million.
5. Emerson Baby
Under the title “Emerson—Mommy’s nose is scary!” five-month-old Baby Emerson from London, Ont., is both endlessly terrified and delighted by the sound of his mother blowing her nose. YouTube views: 36 million.
6. S–t Girls Say
When Toronto-based artists Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard spliced together stereotypical girl-talk banalities, it was the meme that launched a thousand social analyses—and a book deal with Harlequin. YouTube views: 29 million.
7. Corey Vidal
In 2008, Corey Vidal made a video of himself singing a four-part harmony for Star Wars (John Williams is the Man), a compilation of Star Wars-inspired lyrics sung to the composer’s most famous film scores. YouTube views: 17 million.
8. United Breaks Guitars
After a flight aboard United Airways in 2008, Dave Carroll of the band Sons of Maxwell discovered his $3,500 guitar had been broken. When
the airline refused compensation, he wrote a song about his ordeal that drew worldwide attention and a book deal. YouTube views: 12 million.
9. Hélène Campbell
When 21-year-old Campbell found out she was ill, she created @alungstory while awaiting a double lung transplant, garnering thousands of followers, including Justin Bieber and a surprise video call from Ellen DeGeneres. She received her transplant in April.
10. Arrested Drunk Guy
In November 2011, Robert Wilkinson of Edson, Alta., was arrested by RCMP for allegedly driving drunk. Proclaiming himself sober from the back seat of a squad car, he launched into a passionate, and remarkably accurate, a cappella rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody—all six minutes of it. YouTube views: 8 million.
Have you ever wondered which cities have the most bars, smokers, absentee workers and people searching for love? What about how Canada compares to the world in terms of the size of its military, the size of our houses and the number of cars we own? The answers to all those questions, and many more, can be found in the first ever Maclean’s Book of Lists, hitting stands in time for Canada Day.
Buy your copy of the Maclean’s Book of Lists at the newstand or order online now.
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
Have you ever wondered why people share so much information about themselves on things like Facebook and Twitter? Have you ever thought about how all of that data might be used in the bigger picture? Have you ever wondered whether all of that stuff might actually be worth more than just free access to a site that lets you share photos?
Nora Young, host of the CBC radio program Spark (which I sometimes contribute to), tackles all of these topics and more in her new book The Virtual Self: How Our Digital Lives Are Altering the World Around Us. It’s a great read that provides a good deal of food for thought in regards to why we engage in all this self-tracking, and what it all might mean as it develops further.
I had a long chat with Nora last week about her book:
By Kate Lunau - Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 1:53 AM - 0 Comments
Fewer young people are learning to drive. The biggest reason for the move away from driving is the Internet
This summer, Sarah Mohammed is going on a road trip. She and three of her friends plan to drive from Montreal, where they live, to the Okanagan Valley. “We’re going to work on some orchards and vineyards in the Interior of B.C.,” says Mohammed, 23. The trip is to mark her recent graduation from the University of King’s College, in Halifax. “I just finished school and I want to do something different,” she says. But on the long drive west, Mohammed won’t be taking any shifts behind the wheel—she doesn’t have a driver’s licence. “Oh, I won’t actually be driving. I’m just being a leech,” she jokes.
Mohammed didn’t go out of her way to avoid learning how to drive. “It’s just something that kind of happened, because of the places I lived,” she says. As a high school student in Toronto, “I just didn’t bother.” At university in Halifax, “everything was very accessible by bike or bus, and it wasn’t really necessary.” Now, in Montreal, she walks, bikes or takes the subway. Mohammed worries that, once she gets to the rural B.C. Interior, she’ll be dependent on her friends for lifts. Of the four heading west, only two can drive. “I’ll pretty much be at their mercy,” she says.
Mohammed isn’t alone. She’s one of a growing number of younger people who shrug their shoulders at the idea of getting a driver’s licence, leaving car companies fretting and older generations perplexed. Getting a licence used to be a rite of passage—one that brought younger people together, gave them access to jobs, opportunities and the glories of the open road. It meant adulthood, and freedom. “That moment when the keys got passed from dad or mom to you, and you could drive by yourself, was a liberation,” says Steve Penfold, who teaches a course on the history of the automobile at the University of Toronto. “It said, ‘I’m trustworthy enough to drive a car. I’m bordering on adulthood.’ ” People remember their first car “like they remember nothing else,” he says, and often they gave the car a name.
By Luke Simcoe - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 2:59 PM - 0 Comments
Less than a year and a half ago, the world received a lesson in how vulnerable the contemporary Internet is to top-down control. Faced with ongoing protests organized in large part through social media, the government of Egypt simply turned off the country’s Internet.
As we all know, the move backfired. It let the rest of the world see how authoritarian the Mubarak regime was and caused countless free speech groups–including Anonymous–to rally behind the protesters in Tahrir Square. To this day, the chart showing the country’s Internet traffic all but disappear remains one of the most iconic images of the Arab Spring.
It was also a stark reminder that the Internet is indeed a series of tubes. And whoever controls those tubes, controls the Internet. Even here in Canada, much of the country’s traffic moves through an Internet exchange point. Shut that down, and Canadians would be left in the digital dark.
In the wake of Mubarak’s decision to hit the kill switch, it seems that a number of activists have begun to rethink their approach to net neutrality. No longer content to lobby those who control the existing Internet, they’re trying to create a new one. Whether it’s the “Freedom Towers” that could be found at various Occupy protests, or Reddit users’ Darknet plan, there’s an increasing push towards developing decentralized mesh networks as an alternative to the now-centralized Internet.
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 1:09 PM - 0 Comments
One of the things I always try to do at the Consumer Electronics Show is take stock of the Canadian companies at the annual Las Vegas techno-circus. Aside from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, that usually means talking to startups.
At this year’s show, one of the more interesting startups I encountered was SurfEasy, a new Toronto-based outfit aiming to make web surfing more private through a USB key that plugs in to your computer. The company recently started shipping its product and I finally had a chance to review it.
The best part of the SurfEasy key is just that – it’s easy. It’s a thin USB stick that comes in a plastic credit-card-like holder. You plug it in and it immediately launches a quick registration window, where you input your email address and a password. From there, a brief tutorial shows you how to use it and then you’re off to the races.
The SurfEasy browser is based on Mozilla, so it looks and feels similar to Firefox. A blue panel on the top right tells you that the site you’re on is encrypted. All of the browser’s traffic flows through a virtual private network connection to SurfEasy with the same level of security encryption as banks use, according to the company. That means no one – not your ISP, Google or the government – can snoop on what you’re doing. Indeed, the Google search bar shows up on SurfEasy’s default home page, but it can only track your location by city rather than by your individual IP address. Even that level of identification can be turned off, if you choose.
By Julia McKinnell - Wednesday, May 30, 2012 at 11:57 AM - 0 Comments
A Stanford professor wants tech giants to allow kids to permanently erase personal information
There’s a reason why technology executives don’t post pictures of their kids online. Digital photographs can contain embedded information about when and where the picture was taken, and that data can be extracted with computer software. A photo of your daughter, for instance, can tell a stalker where she parks her bike, which shortcut she takes home, and what school she attends. And if your daughter is sending nude photos to her boyfriend and those pictures make it to the web, advances in facial recognition technology mean she could be identified years later.
If you’re feeling helpless in steering your child away from online errors in judgment, a new book by Stanford professor James Steyer called Talking Back to Facebook is full of sound advice. Chelsea Clinton, one of Steyer’s former students, writes the foreword.
Steyer, the father of four, is the passionate founder of Common Sense Media, an organization that recently helped introduce legislation to require tech giants to create and distribute an “eraser” button. “Web companies should make it possible for young people to completely delete personal information they regret having posted or shared publicly. No 13-year-old should have to live the rest of his or her life with the consequences of some poor, impulsive decision that was shared online.”
By Peter Nowak - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
An op-ed piece on broadband caps over on Ars Technica caught my attention over the weekend. In it, Technology Policy Institute vice-president and senior fellow Scott Wallsten argued that caps aren’t perfect, but that’s okay.
Wallsten wrote that the arguments against broadband usage caps–based as they are on the fact that data is incredibly cheap and continually dropping in price–are fallacious because they don’t take into account basic economic principles. He argued:
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 12:35 PM - 0 Comments
If Facebook were a fictional movie character, it would have to be Rocky Balboa. Like Sylvester Stallone’s underdog boxer, Facebook routinely gets its figurative face punched in, but somehow keeps on going. Whatever you think of the social-networking service, on the eve of its initial public offering–expected to be the largest ever for a U.S. tech company–it’s hard not to admire the company’s ability to roll with the punches.
Facebook has repeatedly sparred with watchdogs and users alike over its constantly changing privacy settings. Canada actually led the way, with Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart giving the web service a good spanking back in 2009, with other countries following suit. Even before that, the company caught heavy flak for its Beacon effort, an ad platform that displayed on Facebook users’ activity on other websites.
By Peter Nowak - Monday, May 14, 2012 at 2:10 PM - 0 Comments
If you haven’t read a good dystopian tale like George Orwell’s 1984 lately, have a look at a new study on usage-based Internet billing from Microsoft and a couple of professors from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The report tells of a number of families in South Africa that took part in the study, which sought to understand how the caps on monthly home broadband plans affected Internet usage. It’s bone-chilling stuff.
In South Africa, broadband speeds are still relatively slow, hitting a maximum of four megabits per second as of the study’s purview (2010). Usage caps, meanwhile, typically came in at between one and nine gigabytes per month, with unlimited plans only recently surfacing.
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
Is anything on the Internet more misunderstood than Anonymous?
Call them a “group” or “hackers,” or “cyber-activists,” or “cyber-terrorists,” and you’ll be mostly wrong and totally reductive. They’ve been more accurately described as a “culture,” an “idea,” or a “phenomenon,” but those all seem kind of flaky and much too flattering. Anonymous defies description and classification by design, tying those of us who aim to understand them into knots. Good for them!
For real insight into Anonymous, I turn to Gabriella Coleman, a McGill professor who approaches them as the subject of anthropological study. Writing this week for Al Jazeera, Coleman aims to clear up some sloppy thinking about Anonymous, while putting forward a reasoned defence of their value. Her piece is combatively titled “Everything you know about Anonymous is wrong.”
By Jesse Brown - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 12:04 PM - 0 Comments
Google announced new tools yesterday to help marketers measure how their ads are doing. One of these is Active View, which claims to reveal whether or not an online display ad was in fact seen.
Let’s think about that for a second.
Google has always been able to tell its advertisers whether an ad was served. They also can report how many times it was clicked on. These numbers aren’t guesses, they are hard data, the kind of exact information Google loves. But what happens in between those two metrics? If an ad is served but not clicked on, did it fail? The entire history of television ads would suggests otherwise. Nobody really expects me to buy a Twix bar at the exact moment I see an ad for one on TV. I’m supposed to slowly learn to associate Twix with deliciousness and decadence and sexual magnificence or some such twaddle, until one day I find myself needing to make a candy decision and hey, there it is! This kind of slow brainwashing is what television was built on, but it’s proven very hard to replicate online. If I see a dozen Twix ads on the Internet today, it’s certainly possible that they will have some subtle, even subliminal effect on me, but unless I click on one of the ads, how would Twix ever know? And if the ad is served on Google’s ad network, how will Google ever get paid? It’s a problem Active View promises to solve.