The Internet and Intelligence

Well, I garnered quite a bit of traffic from my post about Facebook and its possible CIA ties. Thanks to everyone who linked, particularly Andy over at!

I just recently started thinking about the Internet, its conception and its future, and it really is a bit of a conundrum. As reader Kenneth pointed out:
It's like anything that you have large quantities of information for, whether it be baseball (Moneyball), the weather or Google. It is being recorded and it will both benefit us as a society (Fun tools like the Facebook and easy access to information like Google) and hurt us (Release of Privacy - What we search for in private).
I don't know whether Facbook's "connections" to the CIA are relevant. As many bloggers pointed out, the CIA could spider these databases if they wanted to, regardless of any monetary investment. What I do know - and the overall purpose for the article - is that we are at a critical point in history. We have the technological facility to index all known information, and this ability provides us with unprecedented convenience. What we must think long and hard about is the cost of that convenience. Where is the balance? How transparent do we want our personal lives to be in exchange for networking, indexing and searchability? I don't know the answers, but we are the generation(s) that must come to terms with this issue and make some decisions.

That said, there have been some very interesting links in the past few days that correspond with my concerns. Here's a quick "round-up":

1. Apparently President Bush authorized the NSA to do some domestic spying without warrants following the September 11 attacks. (Google News - Forbes)
The New York Times quotes government sources as saying a presidential order signed in 2002 allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity -- without court-approved warrants. Perhaps thousands of international telephone calls and e-mails were monitored, the Times said.

The Times said the decision to conduct surveillance without a court order within the United States represented a major shift in domestic intelligence gathering.

2. On a humorous (but in the context, ominous) note, heres an interview with Google's Larry Page in 2038.
Q: I would like to talk a bit about Google Real World Texts Search, the former Google Books Search. When did you decide it wasn’t enough to just scan books?

A: Well, just look at our mission statement. You’ve heard it a million times, “Google’s mission is to organize the universe’s information ... “ etc. After we finished scanning the last book, we were sort of like: “Wow. We did it. Everyone thought it’d be impossible.” But we’re not here to tap each other’s backs and sip champaign. For us it’s more like, so where’s the missing data? And really, we think there’s a lot of text outside of books. On product packaging, comic books, magazines, school papers, and so on. Even when you’re doing a phone scribble, that has the potential to contain valuable information to some. So really, it was only a matter of getting this right, technically, ... we knew very soon we just had to do it.

Q: The phone scribble scanning raised some privacy issues.

A: Yes. And we don’t take those lightly. Internally, we repeat our mantra, discuss it... “Do no evil”. But really, people can easily exclude their trash from being indexed. Our Googlebots will not scan any house, trash can, letter, postcard, magazine or anything else marked with the “no index” sticker. This is really important to us, that people get the chance to opt-out if they’re concerned with privacy.

The rest is worth a read.

My added

You may have already noticed, but I've added my linkroll the sidebar. These will be links I find particularly interesting or amusing, hand-picked for this blog. You can always see my complete bookmarks at Enjoy!

What would Orwell do?

Mirrored from

If you are an active Internet user and under the age of 25 (or 30), you probably fit in one of two categories; either [1] You have tried social networking, but didn't really get what the buzz was about, or [2] you get it, you dig it, and you sit for hours scouring, posting comments and photos, and clicking refresh obsessively.

Everyone has heard of Facebook. At almost 2 years old, it's growth is staggering.

Take a look at the Repeat Usage statistics, in particular and tell me that this isn't a craze bordering on obsession. 70 percent of users return on a daily basis to a site that really isn't all that dynamic. There are no blogs; just personal info, a place to post blurbs on users' "wall", and now pictures. With websites like Facebook and MySpace gaining an almost-disturbing amount of popularity, it seems that our desire for networking has trumped our sound-thinking, skepticism and desire for privacy.

I started thinking about this issue recently, and the question just keeps popping up: Why do we place so much trust in the creators of these websites? Since the emergence of "Web 2.0", it seems that with a simple "We're not evil, try our Beta" everyone is falling over themselves to shell out as much information as it takes.

Stop and think about Facebook for one minute. A 21-year-old Harvard student starts a networking site for college students, and now there are over 5 million users, many of which have probably never looked at the Privacy Policy. After all, Facebook is fun, so they freely post their name, address, school, concentration, political affiliation, friends, plans and even photos in which faces are linked to profiles. Comforted by the idea that this info isn't crawled by search engines, the fact remains that membership is only limited by the ownership of an ".edu" e-mail address (the Wall Street Journal expressed concerns about this, in fact).

What about the Privacy Policy? In the Help Section of Facebook it says, "Facebook respects your privacy. We don't distribute your user information to third parties" followed by "Read more about our Privacy Policy." Click the link and it says oh yeah, one more thing: we just might share your info, and it "may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies." This is a pretty typical policy, actually. It's in the section entitled "The Information We Collect" that it gets a little disconcerting.
When you visit the Web Site you may provide us with two types of information: personal information you knowingly choose to disclose that is collected by us and Web Site use information collected by us on an aggregate basis as you and others browse our Web Site.

It goes on to explain cookies, etc., but then ends with this vague third mode of data collection:

I'm not sure what that means, but I do remember something about AOL's updated terms of service.

I'm not usually big on conspiracy theories, but I point out Facebook's privacy policy to highlight some other interesting aspects of this company. It has been just a few months since Accel Partners announced a $13 million investment in Facebook. That may seem like no surprise that a VC is interested; Facebook's numbers are impressive. However, there are some significant details that cannot be overlooked.
1. Other VCs weren't very interested.
The concept isn't a new one, and according to Private Equity Week:
It is also an enormous gamble for the firm, which typically invests in networking and software and is betting its status on Thefacebook. Not only has Accel shied away from Internet-related investments in recent years, but also it is veering into territory that has not been too kind to VCs.

Several top-tier funds have bets on various social networking sites that had enjoyed flashy launches, but have been quiet since the startups were announced.


“They're operating on a wing and a prayer,” says one VC who met with Thefacebook, but didn't invest. “They don't have any valuable [intellectual property]. Those kids got lucky, but I don't know that [their business] will prove any better an investment than the other social networking sites we've seen.”

The fact of the matter is, regardless of Facebook's success, a $13 million investment is huge at this stage of the social networking game. That leads one to wonder about Accel's motivation.

2. The VCs that ARE Interested have strange connections

Take, for example, Jim Breyer, manager of Accel's Investment Team, and the guy working most closely with Facebook. Breyer is the former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVAC), where he served with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel. In-Q-Tel is a venture capital firm established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999. This firm works in various aspects of information technology and intelligence, particularly in "tools for the rapid deployment of distributed, economical data collection networks. Systems that are self-organizing or that provide tools for the aggregation and management of data from large numbers..." and other items "of interest to the CIA."

Breyer has also served on the board of BBN Technologies, a research and development firm also closely tied to In-Q-Tel. In fact BBN shared board members with In-Q-Tel, such as Anita Jones, former Director of Defense Research and Engineering for the U.S. Department of Defense. Her responsibilities included serving as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and overseeing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In a 2002 NY Times article entitled, "Many Tools of Big Brother Are Already Up and Running", John Markoff shed light on DARPA as well as it's cousin, the Information Awareness Office, whose purpose was described as
[gathering] as much information as possible about everyone, in a centralized location, for easy perusal by the United States government, including (though not limited to) Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.

That almost sounds like a description of social networking itself. It's interesting to note that the IOA's original mission statement, "Total Information Awareness (TIA)" was adapted in 2003 to "Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA)." That was convenient. Following a Congressional investigation, the IAO "disappeared", though it's difficult to say if it ceased to exist. The Department of Defense and the CIA have their legal limitations; what better way to usurp those than to seek commercial products that do the job for them?

Proponent articles for Total Information awareness appeared in National Review and The Weekly Standard. It is interesting to note that Peter Thiel, who is also a significant investor to Facebook sits on the board of the VanguardPAC, and likely holds similar views.

I'll say this one more time; I'm not a crackpot, and I don't go around sniffing for conspiracies. There are simply so many strange connections back to the CIA and intelligence-hungry organizations that it truly has me concerned. Worst case scenario: we could be voluntarily handing over personal information to the government in a clean, searchable format. If there is something to these connections, we have - on our own accord - created an extensive network that Orwell's Big Brother could have only dreamed of.

Update: Over at The Sounds of Crickets Chirping there are some interesting points made on this topic...

Another Update: Trent Lapinski ( details some interesting information about MySpace.

Xbox 360: False Advertisement?

Xbox customer service: "Orient your console horizontally. The Xbox 360 isn’t designed to play games vertically."
There are reportedly no stabilizers to allow for vertical play, or to stop discs from scratching when the console is vertical. Many of Matt’s discs got scratched despite the fact that he never moved his console while it was on. The kicker of the story is that Microsoft will not fix his Xbox to play games in the vertical position! Apparently there are no plans to add stabilizers to the DVD drive.
[via 360 Insider]

UPDATE: has a DIY Fix for the 360 drive: stick a piece of rubber in there. (Thanks to Justin for the pointer).

Today in Japan Honda debuted a new ASIMO humanoid robot...
...which features the ability to pursue key tasks in a real-life environment such as an office and an advanced level of physical capabilities. Compared to the previous model, the new ASIMO achieves the enhanced ability to act in sync with people – for example, walking with a person while holding hands. A new function to carry objects using a cart was also added. Further, the development of a “total control system” enables ASIMO to automatically perform the tasks of a receptionist or information guide and carry out delivery service. In addition, the running capability is dramatically improved, with ASIMO now capable of running at a speed of 6km/hour and of running in a circular pattern.

According to the press release, "delivery service" includes tasks as precise as serving cups of tea on a tray, thanks to the coordinated use of its "eye camera" and the "kinesthetic sensor" on its wrists.

Through proactive control of ASIMO’s posture while both feet are off the ground, the running speed was doubled from the previous 3km/hour to 6km/hour. One particularly interesting innovation is the ASIMO's ability to run almost as fast in a circle; the robot actually shifts its center of gravity inward to according to the amount of centrifugal force.

For me, these giant steps in robotic technology are as alarming as they are exciting. Notice the introduction over at Digital World Tokyo:
Honda’s smug ASIMO robot is incredibly annoying — here in Japan it’s hard to get through a single day without being subjected to his capering antics on TV and in magazines. Which makes it all the more disturbing that Honda has bestowed the bungling ‘bot with even greater powers. (emphasis mine)

From America, I have heard of this robot, but only from an episode of some tech shows from time to time. In other words, it's perceived here in the U.S. as a kind of "far off" technology (in my circles, at least). It's kind of scary that in Japan they are being bombarded with images of this thing. Particularly if the images are of "capering antics." Is Honda getting everyone used to the "personality" of this robot? Seems like some kind of preemptive marketing to make the integration of robots into our daily lives a little easier to swallow. They've certainly got the controversy in mind if they named the machine ASIMO.

I'm anxious to see where this ends up...

I've a really difficult time managing my writing. I have a variety of issues that interest me, but I have kind of pigeonholed my writing by creating very specific blogs. So, I am going to reserve via crucis for religious and philosophical articles, and leave this one open for just about everything else that interests me: news, politics, technology, design, and cross-over philosophical subjects, including the evolution/intelligent design debate.

I have set up my account to post daily links as entries, so regardless of my writing schedule, there should be something of some interest on here each day. I'm actually in the process of writing my final paper for the semester, so writing should pick up soon (both here and over on via crucis).

I'm trying to finish up an article - sort of an exposé - about the social networking craze and privacy issues. Check back soon.

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