Google is less evil than China

2 07 2010

Google has begun a practice of flagging Google accounts that are being accessed from unusually parts of the world. Typically, you access your Google account from a relatively small geographic area. Home, work, and areas around your city are areas where you are most likely to log in. In response to an attack on Google’s Gmail servers in January, presumably by the Chinese government, the search company has started flagging users’ accounts if they are being accessed from abnormal parts of the world for that user.

This practice is nothing new. If your credit card information has been stolen and big-ticket items are being purchased rapidly, the credit card company will put a hold on that card and contact you. This is no different.

This is a generally positive development and should help to discourage at least a few attacks on Google’s mail servers. However, according to the Ars Technica article linked to earlier in this post, there is still a backdoor into Google’s systems via ActiveSync. Citing a blog post from Gabriel Landau at Independent Security Evaluators, it is possible to circumvent the Gmail access logs, which is how Gmail knows where it is being accessed from. One only needs proper credentials for the account in question to read and send emails with that account and no one can stop it because ActiveSync cannot be disabled like IMAP or POP can.

Assuming Google patches that gaping hole in its fence soon, I think that it is doing better to protect the security of its users from unauthorized access than it was before the Chinese attack. Call me a Google fanboy, but I was happy to see Google take action after the attack and work to make its users safer.

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The Chinese goverment needs to stop browbeating Google

23 03 2010

Earlier this year, Google announced that they would stop filtering their Internet search results for the Chinese market, a request made by the Chinese government. This came after a massive attack on Google’s US-based Gmail servers which was likely an attempt by the Chinese government to get information about Chinese dissidents and human rights activists.

In the past few days, Google has moved its operations and personnel from mainland China to the less restrictively-governed Hong Kong. Google.cn will now redirect to google.com.hk.

Naturally, the Chinese government is not too thrilled about this move and even called it “the wrong choice.” Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not really your decision, is it? If Google doesn’t really want to put up with filtering results in your country while at the same time trying to sell themselves as one of the greatest research tools in history, then that is their call. The decision that the Chinese government made is to censor the Internet. They can block Google at any time.

What I found truly bizarre in all of this is that the Chinese people, at least according to the general portrayal of events in the media, actually feel sorry for Google, which confused and frustrated me a bit. Google is going out on a limb here and trying to provide uncensored material to you and feel sorry for them? I do not get it.

Good for Google. I completely agree with their decision here. The Internet was never meant to be censored by anyone, individual or government. A free and open Internet benefits everyone. Hopefully, the Chinese government will someday see the light and lift its restrictions on freedom of speech and information.





Tech companies should leave restrictive countries

26 01 2010

Last week, Google broke the news that they had been hacked and that the attack originated from China. Since Google has been careful to not keep any of its servers or data in China, opting to store everything on servers in the United States, it is likely that the Chinese government itself is responsible for the attack. Google responded to this by announcing publicly that they would no longer be filtering content on Google.cn searches in compliance with Chinese laws. This essentially has ended Google’s corporate presence in China for the foreseeable future.

Maybe Google did the right thing here. It is not the only corporation that has submitted to the Chinese authorities in order to have a presence and marketshare there. As part of the Golden Shield Project, anything that is deemed inappropriate or subversive on the internet by the Chinese government is blocked. Since Facebook and Twitter are exceptionally hard to filter, those sites are blocked out entirely.

By leaving its 30% marketshare of the Chinese search market, Google essentially took a financial hit so that it could redeem its moral standing to a degree.

If internet and technology companies want to send a message to the entire world that they will stand up for free speech on the internet, then they should simply leave any country that uses internet censorship to repress its own people.

While China is fairly tech-savvy and its own native search engine, Baidu, would likely pick up the slack, the tech companies that leave would at least be able to keep themselve true to the spirit of the internet: an open, free forum for public discussion and communication.





Dumb terminal redux

1 01 2010

Currently, netbooks are being sold successfully. Essentially, they are small, low-priced, cramped, underpowered laptop computers that are designed for light internet and word processing duties. These remind me of the dumb terminals of the 60s and 70s. For those too young to remember, a dumb terminal is computer with only enough processing power to connect remotely to a more power computer. Back then, you would probably be connecting with a mainframe.

In addition cloud computing is becoming more and more popular. While still a buzzword, government agencies are getting set to adopt Google Docs for its document storage and collaboration. Clearly, working on a remote server is coming back into vogue, but for different reasons than the ones in the past.

In the past, there was incentive to work on remote computers because they were far more powerful than the more affordable computers of the day. People would get time on a mainframe and carry out complex calculations, often for research purposes. Now, remote computing is used for off-site backup as well as easy sharing and collaboration amongst several people.

With the rise of cloud computing and underpowered netbooks, could we be on the verge of seeing even lower-powered computers coming into the market? Could these computers have the explicit function of connecting to services like Google Apps and Gmail and having the user do all work on the internet, rather than storing data and executing software locally? The next few years should reveal that. There are some serious caveats to putting all faith in the cloud and keeping your data there. Google Apps and Gmail are great when they work, but sometimes they go down and disrupt life for millions of users who rely on them heavily already. What happens when you cannot access an important paper or get to your email?

Would you be willing to ditch your regular computer and move to 21st century dumb terminal?