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Blurred Vision on YouTube July 20, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government.
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The Google-owned video site YouTube has just announced a new feature that allows users to upload their content with faces blurred. The feature allows those who require anonymity to upload videos, but can also be used by anyone – for example a parent might want to blur the face of his children on a video that might receive a lot of views by strangers.

The technology is automated, so the system can detect faces and blur them then the users can preview the video frame-by-frame before publishing it – with the certainty that every individual frame is blurred.

This is an interesting development in the light of recent political upheavals across the world. YouTube was credited as being a major force for change in events such as the Arab Spring and video from the ground uploaded by activists was essential in demonstrating to the world that official government statements were not always to be believed.

Because the original video must be uploaded and then processed it may be interesting to see if there is ever any legal challenge and request for the original video to be released – perhaps where the blurred face conceals a criminal. YouTube are facilitating anonymity, but will people trust that there really is no original copy of their movie online?

Face Shake

Photo by Kaptain Kobald licensed under Creative Commons

 

 

Twitter can now remove tweets by country February 1, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Internet.
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The micro-blogging service, Twitter, recently announced that they can now ‘censor’ messages by country. Many in the technology community were shocked by this news as the transparency and free access to information sharing on Twitter was seen as a catalyst for some of the Arab spring revolutionary activity this time last year.

Twitter has said that the price they need to pay for operating in some countries is to have the ability to delete certain messages at the request of a state government. They claim that transparency has increased because they are being open about government requests to remove information.

But are we seeing democratic values, such as free speech, buffeting against national and commercial interest? Most users of Twitter probably read information from, and talk to, people in dozens of countries everyday. The information is just there, regardless of national borders.

Twitter appears to be capitulating to national governments, considering this as a price worth paying to do business in those regions, so it appears that censorship on major social networks can be bought. If the company doesn’t want to miss out on entering certain markets, they will do whatever it takes to be there rather than defending the free exchange of information.

Of course, Twitter is just a company. They are not supposed to be a champion of international free speech or human rights, but the service has developed a track record for being simple, open, and transparent. If that’s all about to change so governments can delete anything they see as seditious then where will the next Arab spring be created?

Arab Spring [LP]

Photo by Painted Tapes licensed under Creative Commons

Shutting down Twitter August 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, Internet.
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The recent civil unrest in several English cities that turned from a political protest into looting and criminality within a couple of days has led lawmakers to explore the social networks blamed for organising the wave of crime.

Though many commentators are pointing out that cars should not be banned because lawbreakers may have used a vehicle to get to the riots, some in government appear adamant that social networks need to be controlled during times of civil disobedience.

It sounds like a cross between the controlled Internet of China and the Egyptian government behaviour – faced with the Arab spring and a popular uprising, the government forced telephone operators to shut down their networks. For a couple of days there was no Internet in Egypt. Citizens resorted to dial-up connections via international phone calls to get any news out of the country.

Could this really happen in the UK?

Former BT Chief Scientist Peter Cochrane dismissed the idea as bluff, suggesting that the government doesn’t understand how the Internet works and that information would always flow, despite any attempt to block it. Others are not so sure.

The Prime Minister himself announced to MPs last week that he is working with the police and intelligence services with a view to exploring the consequences of limiting access to these websites and services if they are being used for criminal purposes. The government already has extensive online intelligence tools available, such as wire-tapping and the boffins inside GCHQ.

So if they started actively requesting offending social media accounts are shut down, would the social networks listen? They might, but then again, would any serious criminals be broadcasting their plans in public? In which case the government would need to directly ask phone networks to suspend their entire 3G services.

In any case, in stark contrast to Egypt, many of the UK networks would refuse on principle, and where would we be then? I don’t believe there is any law that gives the government a right to instruct a phone company to just shut down because of a threat.

[Note: these are the views of the author and not necessarily reflected by Thomas Eggar]