Google discloses demands for censorship, user data

The country-by-country breakdown just released on Google’s Web site marks the first time that the Internet search leader has provided such a detailed look at the censorship and data requests that it gets from regulators, courts and other government agencies. The figures, for the roughly 100 countries in which it operates, cover the final half of last year and will be updated every six months.

Google posted the numbers nearly a month after it began redirecting search requests to its China-based service. Those requests are now handled in Hong Kong rather than mainland China so Google wouldn’t have to obey the country’s Internet censorship laws. Google said details about the censorship demands it got while in mainland China still aren’t being shared because the information is classified as a state secret.

In other countries, Google is making more extensive disclosures about censorship demands or other government requests to edit its search results. Google is also including demands to remove material from its other services, including the YouTube video site, although it is excluding removal requests related to allegations of copyright infringement, a recurring problem for YouTube.

Google is providing a more limited snapshot of government requests for its users’ personal information. The numbers are confined primarily to demands made as part of criminal cases, leaving out civil matters such as divorces. And Google isn’t revealing how often it cooperated with those data demands.

The disclosure comes as more regulators and consumers watchdogs around the world are complaining that the company doesn’t take people’s privacy seriously enough. Google maintains that its users’ privacy is one of the company’s highest priorities. The company also notes that, in one instance, it has gone to court to prevent the U.S. Justice Department from getting broad lists of people’s search requests.

I wonder if the number of requests from the DOJ has diminished?

Top financial diplomat confirmed 78-19 after a year of “NO”


Democracy manages to slip into the U.S. Senate

Lael Brainard won Senate confirmation today as the Treasury Department’s top financial diplomat, giving her a key role in U.S. efforts to persuade China to adopt a more flexible currency.

The Senate approved President Barack Obama’s nominee in a bipartisan 78-19 vote that was stalled more than a year by Republican concerns over Brainard’s tax payments.

That’s a year of stalling, hemming and hawing by crap moralists like Jim Bunning of Kentucky. One of the Republican thugs who specialized in blocking unemployment checks.

Nineteen Senate Republicans joined 57 Democrats and two independents in confirming Brainard Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs…

The timing of the confirmation vote is significant as it occurs before meetings this week of the Group of 20, the smaller Group of Seven and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank…

As well as holding a key position in talks with China, Brainard would help shepherd U.S. official positions through the global lending agencies that are being urged to take on a stronger role in monitoring global currency policies.

The Party of NO continues their favorite folk dance – Blocking the Road.

NY senate leader “looted” $14 million


Pedro Espada
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

New York state Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada and his family looted more than $14 million from a Bronx not-for-profit organization over five years, the state attorney general said on Tuesday.

Cuomo said his office sued Espada and 19 current and former executives of the Comprehensive Community Development Corporation, called Soundview.

“The lawsuit alleges Espada diverted Soundview’s charitable assets and used the money for himself, his family, his friends and his political organization,” according to the attorney general’s statement…

Both Cuomo and Espada are Democrats

Cuomo, in his statement, said: “Siphoning money from a charity would be egregious under any circumstances, but the fact that this was orchestrated by the State Senate Majority Leader makes it especially reprehensible.”

Reprehensible, yes. Surprising? Uh, no.

10-year-old’s pregnancy fuels Mexican abortion debate

A pregnant 10-year-old, allegedly raped by her stepfather, has become the latest lightning rod in the country’s heated abortion debate.

The girl’s stepfather has been arrested. But advocates on both sides of the issue say their battle is just beginning.

“This girl is much more than an isolated case,” said Adriana Ortiz-Ortega, a researcher at Mexico’s National Autonomous University who has written two books on abortion in Mexico, “and there is much more influence now from conservative groups that are trying to prevent the legalization of abortion.”

Abortion is legal in Mexico’s capital city, but prohibited or significantly restricted in most of the country’s states. The girl’s home state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan peninsula, allows abortion in cases of rape during the first 90 days of the pregnancy. But the 10-year-old girl is at 17½ weeks, nearly a month past that limit…

State Attorney General Francisco Alor Quezada said he did not know whether officials had told the girl she had the option of pursuing an abortion, and he did not know how far the girl was into her pregnancy when her mother reported the assault to authorities last month…

The Roman Catholic Church vocally opposes abortion in Mexico, and the topic has long been controversial there. The debate has been particularly heated since 2007, when the nation’s more liberal capital city approved a law legalizing abortion during the first three months of pregnancy with no restrictions. That decision was challenged and ultimately upheld by the country’s Supreme Court in 2008.

We have the Party of NO. Mexico has the Church of NO.

I hope no one here is laboring under the delusion that either provides anything useful to life and reason in the 21st Century.

25% of countries served – block or censor Google


Would the flag catch your eye if it was Estonian?
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Google’s services are blocked or censored to some degree in one-fourth of the countries where it operates, the company said Monday.

“China is the most polarizing example, but it is not the only one. Google products — from search and Blogger to YouTube and Google Docs — have been blocked in 25 of the 100 countries where we offer our services,” wrote Rachel Whetstone, Google’s vice president of global communications and public affairs, on the company’s European public policy blog.

“In addition, we regularly receive government requests to restrict or remove content from our properties,” she wrote, adding that Google has argued to narrow the scope of such requests when it believes the request is “overly broad…”

What a turn of phrase – “polarizing example”. What that means is any excuse to whine about China is legit in the minds of American media and consumers of that media. That’s not really very bright or apt – of you care about being well-informed.

China isn’t the only country that wants to manage Internet content. For example, Australia is proceeding with plans to block access to Internet sites with material on sexual abuse of children and information that could be used to commit crimes, after tests showed blocking access to blacklisted sites didn’t slow down Internet access for users.

Opponents have objected to the Australian plan, noting that the list of blocked sites includes links that extend beyond the intended scope. In addition, users are able to circumvent the blacklist to access these sites, just as Chinese users are able to circumvent censorship controls there.

Is politics getting in the way of access to information? You betcha.

Is whining about a couple of specific examples worthwhile because it fits your own ideology – of the dozens who attempt to limit access to information? That speaks more about your own parochial politics and fear – than it does about technology or access to knowledge.

Brief meditation exercises improve cognitive skills

Some of us need regular amounts of coffee or other chemical enhancers to make us cognitively sharper. A newly published study suggests perhaps a brief bit of meditation would prepare us just as well.

While past research using neuroimaging technology has shown that meditation techniques can promote significant changes in brain areas associated with concentration, it has always been assumed that extensive training was required to achieve this effect. Though many people would like to boost their cognitive abilities, the monk-like discipline required seems like a daunting time commitment and financial cost for this benefit.

Surprisingly, the benefits may be achievable even without all the work. Though it sounds almost like an advertisement for a “miracle” weight-loss product, new research now suggests that the mind may be easier to cognitively train than we previously believed. Psychologists studying the effects of a meditation technique known as “mindfulness ” found that meditation-trained participants showed a significant improvement in their critical cognitive skills (and performed significantly higher in cognitive tests than a control group) after only four days of training for only 20 minutes each day…

The meditation group did especially better on all the cognitive tests that were timed,” Doctor Fadel Zeidan noted. “In tasks where participants had to process information under time constraints causing stress, the group briefly trained in mindfulness performed significantly better.”

“Findings like these suggest that meditation’s benefits may not require extensive training to be realized, and that meditation’s first benefits may be associated with increasing the ability to sustain attention,” Zeidan said.

Interesting enough that I may get round to trying a bit of this. I appreciate Zeidan’s final note:

“This kind of training seems to prepare the mind for activity, but it’s not necessarily permanent,” Zeidan cautions. “This doesn’t mean that you meditate for four days and you’re done – you need to keep practicing.”

The cost of maintaining the “Party of NO”

“There is no shame in being the party of no,” former Alaskan governor and future television documentarian Sarah Palin told an adoring audience at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last Friday. That, however, is a matter of debate. Newt Gingrich, for example, says he would prefer to be a member of “the party of yes.” Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal thinks differently. He wants to be part of the party of “hell, no.” There is time for the Republican leadership to be having this debate because, well, they’re not doing much else.

Obstructing their Democratic rivals’ every move may yet prove to have been an ingenious gambit on the part of congressional Republicans, but there is no question that it carries a cost. With Tax Day upon us, we got to thinking: Just how much money are taxpayers spending on the Republican Party’s commitment to doing exactly nothing? How much would Americans have saved if the Party of Lincoln’s emissaries to the 111th Congress had simply mailed a one-page note to Democrats on January 3, 2009, inscribed with a single word—“no”?

Republicans continue to pull down their taxpayer-funded salaries, enjoy their taxpayer-sponsored benefits, and accept tax-free donations to think tanks. What has all of their subsidized inactivity cost the nation? Many of the answers can be found in the congressional budget, but we decided to do the math for you.*

RTFA. The details are there.

Grand total cost to the American taxpayer for the Republican “NO” = $1.34 billion.