Google’s About Turn in China

My latest BBC column looks at what Google is up to in China – read it on the BBC News website as usual.

Google has responded to what it terms “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure” aimed at getting access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists by announcing its desire to stop censoring search results on its website.

Writing on the official Google blog the company’s chief legal officer David Drummon says that “over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law”.

But there is clearly little expectation that this will be possible and Google has apparently decided that it will, if necessary, stop operating in China.

Read the whole thing.

However the story has moved fast – I said ‘

Here in the UK, Peter Barron, former editor of BBC Newsnight and now Google UK’s head of communications, has been all over the media giving their side of the story.

I haven’t seen any response from Chinese government spokespeople, and doubt one will be forthcoming.

Google may be big news in the west, but the decision of one search engine provider to renege on its agreement to follow local laws and ask for an exemption is unlikely to merit a formal response.

But I reckoned without the intervention of the US Administration in the row, which is turning it into a diplomatic incident. Perhaps there was more behind the decision than first seemed to be the case… this one might have legs.

Oiling the Digital Society

[As ever, you can also read this on the BBC News Website. And Bud Smith at Google Voice Daily mentions it in his round up of GV news.]

The announcement that Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt is standing down from the Apple board hardly came as a surprise.
Google’s Android is already powering smartphones that offer an open alternative to Apple’s iPhone, while the recent announcement of plans for Chrome OS, an operating system that will directly challenge Mac OS, makes Google a direct competitor to Apple in its core market.
Apple’s recent decision to keep Google Voice out of the iPhone App Store must surely have increased tension on the board, and may have been the last straw.

The move not only annoyed customers, who wanted to take advantage of the single phone number and voice-over-IP calls it offers, but has also invited the attention of the US Federal Communications Commission, which has asked Apple, Google and network provider AT&T to provide it with details of their decision making process.

Continue reading “Oiling the Digital Society”

Bing or Bust

I wrote this last week and forgot to post it here – it’s on the BBC News site and I’ll add it here when I get home:

Will Bing boom or be a big bust?

While sales of hardware may be suffering greatly it seems that the general economic gloom has not yet diminished the ambitions of the larger technology companies to give us new products and services online.

In the last few weeks we have had Wolfram Alpha offering a way to search structured data and provide results in a form suitable for further computation. We have had Google Squared promising a simple way of pulling organised data from websites into a spreadsheet style format.

Finally, a new controller-free interface for the Xbox 360 games console from Microsoft that – the company hopes – will open up gaming to the millions who are intimidated by the complexity of current controllers.

And now, after years of effort, billions of dollars worth of investment and several failed attempts, Microsoft has launched Bing, a search engine that it thinks has a chance of unseating Google and which it would like us to think of as a “decision engine.

read the rest..

Dreamers of the Network World

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website]

Last Saturday morning I woke up and reached for my phone so that I could spend five minutes catching up on email, Facebook and of course overnight updates on Twitter before I got up to make some coffee and start the day.

Radio 4 is the best way to find out what’s happening in the rest of the world, but having easy access to news from my online social networks in bed is one of the boons of having  home wireless connection and a small portable computer that masquerades as a mobile phone.

One of my Twitter friends, game designer Jane McGonigal, had not slept well.

Had a nightmare last night. Ustreaming from home. In the chatroom, everyone starts typing INTRUDER! INTRUDER! Someone snuck in

she tweeted, followed by:

They saw it but I didn’t. I’m terrified. I wake up (for real) and can’t shake the feeling someone is in the apt. Very hard to sleep.

Continue reading “Dreamers of the Network World”

Don’t dream it… Google it.

I’m an easily distracted person, as anyone who’s ever had the misfortune to talk to me at a party will agree. It’s not that I’m not interested in what someone is saying, and I do pay attention, but I have a tendency to scan the room and tune in to other conversations from time to time.

It’s even worse when I’m sitting at my computer on a Sunday evening trying to write an article, do my tax return or simply make sense of the long list of things to be done in the coming week.

Marx could work for weeks in the Reading Room of the British Library with only the tea room and perhaps an occasional fellow writer to distract him, but working on an internet-connected computer is a challenge to anyone trying to focus on the job at hand.

Continue reading “Don’t dream it… Google it.”

Making the Market Work

[As ever, you can read this on the BBC News website]

Twitter, despite the attention it receives around the place with its high-profile users like Stephen Fry, is not the only micro-blogging service out there.

I quite like Tumblr, and Stumbleupon does something useful, while BrightKite links notes and photos to your current location and is growing fast.

One service I never really tried seriously is Pownce, and now I’ll never get the chance as the company has been bought by Six Apart and is going to be shut down.

Continue reading “Making the Market Work”

Ties that bind

[As ever, you can read this on the BBC News website]

One of the throwaway remarks I sometimes make at conferences is that “Google knows you’re pregnant before you do”.

I can say this because the things you search for will change as your life changes, and search engine providers may well be able to spot the significance of these changes because they aggregate data from millions of people.

Now Google’s philanthropic arm,, has shown just what it can do with the data it gathers from us all by offering to predict where ‘flu outbreaks will take place in the USA.

It has found that “certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity”, in that they correlate well with reports from the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Continue reading “Ties that bind”

Who is responsible in our cloudy world?

[As ever, this is also on the BBC News website]

In the next few days [in fact it is now published] a number of large technology companies, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, are going to announce that they have signed up to a voluntary code of conduct on how they do business in countries that curtail freedom of expression like China and Singapore.

The code has been drawn up by the Washington-based digital rights group The Center for Democracy & Technology and a non-profit in San Francisco, Business for Social Responsibility, and it is believed to address the terms of business companies should adhere too and also to call on them to try to ensure that suppliers and business partners also sign up. Continue reading “Who is responsible in our cloudy world?”

A link to eternity

[You can read this on the BBC News website – sorry it’s late being posted here. But one day I’ll be late too..]

While Google is as secretive about its internal processes and systems as Apple is about product development, every now and then senior people post articles on the official Google blog and offer their thoughts on the development of the web.

In the latest posting two Google engineers, Alfred Spector and Franz Och, look at how search strategies will benefit from the faster computers, greater volumes of data and better algorithms we are likely to see in the next decade, speculating that “we could train our systems to discern not only the characters or place names in a YouTube video or a book, for example, but also to recognise the plot or the symbolism.”

Continue reading “A link to eternity”

The value of Chrome…

I’m writing a piece for Ariel, the BBC’s in-house newspaper, about Google Chrome, so I did some searching and was surprised just how many entries about the browser Google managed to find and how many of them were about the browser rather than the metal: if you search for ‘chrome’ on Google then the top seven hits refer to their browser


Yet a similar search in Microsoft’s live search offers a range of Google-related news articles as the top hit, followed by a lot of links about chrome-plated cars. For those who have ever believed that Google’s organic search is somehow an objective reflection of the internet’s current interests and activities, this should make the Google-centrism of its worldview clearly evident.

When you search at you are looking through rainbow-coloured glasses into a representation of the web where Google values and Google interests come first.

Later, via Twitter from mattjones

@billt Ranking algorithm at work? More queries relating to the browser, not chrome plating. So top results should be about Chrome, surely?

I’m not convinced…