Archive for the ‘2005’ Category

San Francisco Chronicle:

Marshall W. Van Alstyne
Boston University – Department of Management Information Systems; MIT – Center for E-Business

Erik Brynjolfsson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


Information technology can link geographically separated people and help them locate interesting or useful resources. These attributes have the potential to bridge gaps and unite communities. Paradoxically, they also have the potential to fragment interaction and divide groups. Advances in technology can make it easier for people to spend more time on special interests and to screen out unwanted contact. Geographic boundaries can thus be supplanted by boundaries on other dimensions. This paper formally defines a precise set of measures of information integration and develops a model of individual knowledge profiles and community affiliation. These factors suggest specific conditions under which improved access, search, and screening can either integrate or fragment interaction on various dimensions. As IT capabilities continue to improve, preferences—not geography or technology—become the key determinants of community boundaries.

DOWNLOAD PDF (Click “Choose Download Location”)


Empowered by search engines, recommender systems, search agents, and automatic filters, information technology (IT) users are spending more of their waking hours on the Internet, choosing to interact with information sources customized to their individual interests. But, does the emergence of global information infrastructure necessarily imply the emergence of the global village–a virtual community of neighbors freed of geographic constraints? Or, will the borders merely shift from those based on geography to those based on interest?

In this paper, we show that an emerging global village represents only one of a range of possible outcomes. Improved communications access and filtering technologies can, in some circumstances, lead to more fragmented intellectual and social interaction. In particular, we show that preferences can reshape social, intellectual, and economic neighborhoods as distinct from those based on geography. Just as separation in physical space can divide geographic groups, we find that separation in virtual knowledge space can divide special interest groups. In certain cases, the latter can be more insular. We introduce several formal indices of integration and then show both algebraically and graphically the conditions under which these indices rise or fall with different preferences and levels of access.

The conclusion that increased connectivity and improved filtering can actually lead to less integration is based on two observations. First, bounded rationality–a limit on the human capacity for information processing (Simon 1957)–can lead to specialization, which decreases the range of overlapping activities. As IT eliminates geographical constraints on interaction, the constraints of bounded rationality become increasingly important. Information transmission and bandwidth have increased across all distances except the last 12 inches–between people and machines. Regardless of how fast data scrolls across the screen, absorption is bounded. In the limit, people must choose some information contacts over others. Filters, even sophisticated electronic filters, must be selective in order to provide value. Thus, certain contacts, ideas, or both, will be screened out.

The second observation is that IT can provide a lubricant that enables the satisfaction of preferences against the friction of geography. On the one hand, those with a preference for specialization, whether intrinsic or driven by external rewards, may seek more focused contact than available locally. Thus, local heterogeneity can give way to virtual homogeneity as specialized communities coalesce across geographic boundaries. On the other hand, preferences for broader knowledge, or even randomized information, can also be indulged. In the presence of IT, a taste for diverse interaction leads to greater integration–underscoring how the technology serves mainly to amplify individual preferences. IT does not predetermine one outcome.

The same mechanisms that affect the specialization of knowledge also affect the degree to which interactions among people and communities become more or less integrated. The Internet can provide access to millions of other users and a wide range of knowledge sources, but no one can interact with all of them. Bounded rationality implies that a citizen of cyberspace still has a finite set of “neighbors” with whom he or she can meaningfully interact, but that nongeographic criteria increasingly influence the selection of these neighbors. Nongeographic criteria for selecting acquaintances can include common interests, status, economic class, academic discipline, religion, politics, or ethnic group. In some cases, the result can be a greater balkanization along dimensions that matter far more than geography, while in other cases more diverse communities can emerge. Our analysis suggests that automatic search tools and filters that route communications among people based on their views, reputations, past statements, or personal characteristics are not necessarily benign in their effects.

Preferences themselves need not remain unaffected by such tools. Because the Internet makes it easier to find like-minded individuals, it can facilitate the creation and strength of fringe communities that have a common ideology but are dispersed geographically. Thus, particle physicists, oenophiles, Star Trek fans, and members of militia groups have used the Internet to find each other, swap information, and stoke each others’ passions. In many cases, their heated dialogues might never have reached critical mass as long as geographic separation diluted them to a few participants per million. Once connected, their subsequent interactions can further polarize their views or even ignite calls-to-action (Sunstein 2002). The Internet can also facilitate the de facto secession of individuals or groups from their geographic neighborhoods. One study found that increased hours spent using the Internet can be strongly associated with a loss of contact with one’s social environment and spending less time with human beings (Nie and Erbring 2000). Another study found that users decreased their local knowledge while their knowledge of national events remained about the same (Kraut et al. 2002). Consistent with the predisposition arguments presented below, the latter study also found that introverts decreased on measures of community involvement and increased in loneliness, while extroverts increased their involvement and decreased in loneliness. The Internet can apparently lead to spending less time interacting with geographic neighbors, isolating individuals on some dimensions even as it integrates them on others.

We do not argue that increased specialization or balkanization must always result from increased connectivity. On the contrary, we believe that the Internet has enormous potential to elevate the nature of human interaction. Indeed, we find that if preferences favor diversity, increased connectivity reduces specialization and increases integration. Strong ties and social bonding provide important social benefits (Wellman and Wortley 1990, Putnam 2000). However, our analysis also indicates, other factors being equal, all that is required to reduce integration in most cases is that preferred interactions are more focused than existing interactions. A desire for increased focus and improved filtering of noisy communications is a natural response to data and computational overload. Although the conventional wisdom has stressed the integrating effects of the technology, we examine critically the claim that a global village is the inexorable result of increased connectivity and develop a suite of formal measures to address this question.

2. Related Literature

To characterize group information sharing, we draw on related literature from a variety of perspectives, including theories of attraction (Blau 1977), dynamic social interaction (Latane 1996), group stability (Carley 1990), group diversity (Ancona and Caldwell 1992), social networks (White et al. 1976, Wellman and Wortley 1990, Wellman and Gulia 1997), network measures (Banks and Carley 1996, Sunil et al. 1995, Teachman 1980, Wasserman and Faust 1994, Watts and Strogatz 1998), and diffusion models (Valente 1995).

Like Blau (1977), we use an attribute vector, such as age, sex, race, religion, and employment, to predict social differentiation, group formation, and individual tendencies toward social interaction, but we focus on information access. Blau’s homophily model of attributes, for example, predicts that two white male postal workers share more in common than either might share with a black female executive. Based on differences among individuals and the assumption that influence declines with distance, Latane (1996) argues that group patterns emerge as a function of the strength, immediacy, and number of social factors acting on individuals. Latane’s Dynamic Social Impact Theory holds that people become more similar to their neighbors, leading to spatial clustering, and that changing patterns may exhibit nonlinearity as opinions resist outside pressure up to a threshold, which we model explicitly in Corollary 1. An empirical study in support of this theory found that group members came to resemble their neighbors in electronic space, opinions on unrelated topics became correlated, and majority factions increased in size, but minority factions became more coherent (Latane and Bourgeois 1996).

Group stability is also considered in Carley’s (1990, p. 332) “constructural” model, where groups “form and endure because of discrepancies in who knows what.” Shared knowledge leads to interaction and, in turn, interaction leads to shared knowledge. The modeling parameters and analysis resemble those introduced here, with a few exceptions. First, Carley’s simulation analysis tracks the complex dynamic character of group boundaries over time. In contrast, our derivations are analytical and focus on comparative static results and equilibrium conditions. Second, most models of this type (e.g., triad completion, constructural, degree variance) eventually homogenize in the sense that interaction probabilities between all pairs of agents become equal (Banks and Carley 1996). In our model, homogenization and balkanization can both result. The key difference is the interaction of preferences with bounded capacity; for if agents in our model had unbounded capacity, integration would always result. Indeed, even with bounded capacity and a preference for diversity, integration still results. In this sense, the models are consistent and complementary.

Unlike “learning” models in the literature, our model does not explicitly treat information spreading perfectly from person to person. Simulations have shown that results presented here are qualitatively similar if either information decays with time or attenuates with distance (as in Zipf 1946) or is “sticky” (as in von Hippel 1998) in terms of the expertise required to process it. Either factor can move equilibrium knowledge profiles from homogeneity toward clustering, contingent on preferences. If perfect knowledge transfers are allowed, but extreme preferences prevent intergroup interaction, then subsequent results are unchanged. If learning is allowed, but balkanization refers to group formation apart from what members know, then results are also unchanged.

A contrasting perspective appears in Watts and Strogatz (1998), which models small-world phenomena. Their model considers paths between agents in which groups exhibit a high degree of local clustering but also a fairly short average path length between individuals. Through simulation and analysis, they show that adding random links to a structured network, which has high local clustering and long average path lengths, can reduce average path length much more rapidly than it reduces clustering. Thus, local communities could appear to have numerous in-group ties, while the distance to members of out-groups appears fairly short–an idea first captured in Milgram’s phrase “six degrees of separation,” implying that any two people across the globe could be linked by a chain of only six people. (1)

To the extent that data diffuses more rapidly, shorter paths between distant people will promote more integrated information. Transfer also depends, however, on preferences. Intermediate people in a chain must be willing to serve as conduits for data that need not necessarily pertain to them. In a dramatic demonstration of this, Dodds et al. (2003) tried to recreate the Milgram letter-passing experiment. Despite the ease of using e-mail over standard mail, fully 98% of chains failed to complete (Dodds et al. 2003). (2) Thus, news of popular interest, terrorist attacks, and jokes-of-the-day diffuse rapidly, while subtle ideas or those of parochial interest, like new mathematical theorems, diffuse slowly. Subtle ideas may also require sophisticated knowledge to convey. Subtle information is less likely to diffuse rapidly without loss from node to node, as the child’s game of “telephone” illustrates even for simple rumors. Related critical mass and threshold models of diffusion also appear in Valente (1995). One difference is that Valente allows for “opinion leaders,” whereas the present research treats the agents equally in the analysis.

Information integration also differs from group integration. Although the former measures the knowledge individuals have in common, the latter measures the communities they commonly form. The first considers the overlap in what people know, while the second considers the overlap in how they spend their time. As IT can affect both, we introduce measures of knowledge profiles and community membership that…

NOTE: All illustrations and photos have been removed from this article.

Google search and seizure

Posted: August 4, 2008 in 2005, Articles
Tags: ,

By Robert Kuttner  | December 3, 2005

THE NEW York Times recently reported that in a North Carolina strangulation-murder trial, prosecutors introduced as evidence the fact that the defendant’s Google searches had included the words ”neck” and ”snap.” The Times noted that the evidence had come from the defendant’s home computer, but could just as easily have come from Google.

Google’s whole business-model includes keeping track of users’ searches by putting ”cookies” (tracking devices) on users’ own computers, and then using the results to customize ad offerings that pop up when we use their ingenious free search service.

In the era of the misnamed USA Patriot Act, which allows warrantless police searches that are not even disclosed to the target, Google plus Dick Cheney is a recipe for undoing the liberties for which the original patriots of the American Revolution bled and died. Under the Patriot Act, anyone suspected of enabling terrorism can be subjected to these fishing expeditions. Depending on a prosecutor’s whims, that includes all of us.

In the 18th-century era of star-chamber courts and despotic monarchs, the US Constitution put an end to government as prosecutor, judge, and jury. Unreasonable searches and seizures were explicitly prohibited by the Sixth Amendment. People (not just citizens) were guaranteed the right to confront their accusers and to know the charges against them. There were no ”national security” loopholes.

Google’s internal slogan is, charmingly, ”Don’t be evil.” Well, the interaction of cyber-snooping and the unreasonable searches authorized by the Patriot Act is pure evil.

Herewith an idea that I am putting into the public domain, which could make some computer-whiz a billionaire: One of Google’s competitors could guarantee users of its search engines that all data keeping track of searches will be permanently discarded after 24 hours. The search process could still learn a broad pattern of users’ purchasing tastes, if we wish to be party to a bargain of being marketed to in exchange for the convenience of free searches.

The same libertarian computer entrepreneur could offer e-mail software, in which old messages are permanently erased unless the user deliberately opts to retain them.

Google, like Microsoft and IBM before it, may be the current market leader in whiz-bang technology based on sheer inventive genius. But if Google is not careful, some competitor with a genuine regard for privacy could displace it.

We all grew up vaguely knowing that 20th century technology, under fairly narrow circumstances, could invade privacy. The phone company kept track of everyone’s calling records. These could be subpoenaed. Prosecutors and detectives, with warrants approved by judges, could deploy telephone wiretaps. There were occasional abuses, as in the witch hunts of the 1950s, but for the most part these technological invasions of privacy were used against bad guys, not for broad fishing expeditions. And there was no e-mail and no Google.

Today, however, the explosion of computer technology coupled with the discarding of prosecutorial restraints is leading to a Big-Brother society. Unless we pay attention, the technology is so seductive that we become enablers of our own enslavement.

The universal information that is so empowering could be enslaving in another respect. Check out a little satire available on the Internet titled EPIC 2014. It is a short, dystopian picture of the next 10 years.

EPIC stands for the Evolving Personalized Information Construct. In this grim view of the near future, Google merges with Amazon and becomes ”Google-zon,” the ultimate information market monopoly.

By 2014, the press as we know it no longer exists. Google-zon usurps the press’s advertising base by ultra-customizing all ads. There is no longer the traditional craft of reporter or editor. Newspapers go out of business or become small niche products.

”Everyone contributes now — from blog entries to phone-cam images, to video reports, to full investigations,” the video says. Everyone is a news producer as well as a news consumer, and it’s almost impossible to differentiate journalism from junk. Computers strip and splice items, based on each user’s past interests, pattern of use, and declared preferences. News is prioritized according to how many users read each item. Ads are similarly customized. We are universally connected, but universally fragmented and universally vulnerable to misinformation and government and commercial snooping.

The marketplace may solve this dilemma by offering privacy-sensitive products, but entrepreneurs may also make the problem worse. The moment cries out for political as well as commercial leadership.

Ethnic Bio-War

Posted: August 4, 2008 in 2005, Articles, Videos

Biotech advances hold terrifying possibilities
Once-unimaginable weapons move closer to reality

Mon, Dec. 12, 2005

“The so-called ethnic bullet — biological menaces tailored to kill only members of a certain clan or race. Disease-inducing weapons whose effects might be easily reversed — but with an antidote only the weapon maker would possess. A village or city could be faced with the prospect of submission and health or resistance and death. Genetic damage caused by remotely fired ultraviolet, radio or electromagnetic waves.

Substances that can make people hopelessly clumsy, painfully forgetful or pitifully docile.

“(iii) Genetic targeting
Two concerns arise from the possible development of genetically targeted weapons: those that may be used to target the genetic characteristics of different ethnic groups; and those that may be used to target crops and animals.

(a) Human Genome Project and the ethnic bomb
The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international collaboration, centred in the United States and sponsored by the National Human Genome Research Institute. Its goal is to sequence and identify all the genes on the human genome. The work is nearly complete and has been extended to discover the functions of these genes.

The work of the HGP is important given concern over the possible development of weapons targeted at the specific genetic characteristics of different ethnic groups. It has been argued that “if investigations provide sufficient data on ethnic genetic differences between population groups, it may be possible to use such data to target suitable micro-organisms to attack known receptor sites for which differences exist at cell membrane level or even to target DNA sequences inside cells by viral vectors.”[26] These kinds of novel bio-weapons, developed from the application of genomics and proteomics, would only affect individuals with the particular target protein or structure against which they were designed. In many cases the target would be nearly universal within the human species. However, in other cases there might be alternative structures, and only individuals with a particular form of the structure would be vulnerable to the toxic effects of the new weapon. This possibility has led to speculation about ‘ethnic weapons’ that would affect one ethnic or racial group while leaving others untouched.

Thankfully, among humans the amount of intra-group genetic variation is generally greater than the inter-group variation, making it highly unlikely that such weapons would affect only one ethnic group or ‘race’. Indeed, many analysts share the view of the Royal Society: “…these developments are some years away and in some cases are likely to be more fictional than real”.[27] However, it appears that research into such an ethnic weapon has already been attempted (see box 1 on Project Coast).”

“Another ghastly application of genetic engineering to biological warfare, first proposed in 1970 in the American military journal Military Review,, involves the exploitation of subtle hereditary differences between ethnic populations. A pathogen would be modified so it would be most likely to infect people of a particular ethnic background, leaving those of other ethnicities relatively unharmed. The ultimate in racial discrimination, these tactic has the potential to virtually eliminate certain ethnic groups while leaving others untouched.”

“Israel is working on an “ethnically targeted” biological weapon that would kill or harm Arabs but not Jews, according to Israeli military and western intelligence sources cited in a front-page report in the London Sunday Times, November 15, 1998 (“Israel Planning ‘Ethnic’ Bomb as Saddam Caves In,” by Uzi Mahnaimi and Marie Colvin).

In developing this “ethno-bomb,” the British paper went on, Israeli scientists are trying to exploit medical advances by identifying distinctive genes carried by some Arabs, and then create a genetically modified bacterium or virus. The goal is to use the ability of viruses and certain bacteria to alter the DNA inside the host’s living cells. The scientists are trying to engineer deadly microorganisms that attack only those bearing the distinctive genes.”

“Scientists say they may be able to clone selective toxins to eliminate
specific racial or ethnic groups whose genotypic makeup predisposes them
to certain disease patterns. Genetic engineering can also be used to
destroy specific strains or species of agricultural plants or domestic

“There is emerging international concern about the possibilities of ethnic warfare using targeted biological weapons,” says Moreno, director of U.Va.’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. “It is already known that the old apartheid government in South Africa was conducting research for the possible development of biological agents that could be used against the black population. They were particularly interested in seeking ways to sterilize women of color. There have also been allegations that Israel has shown an interest in these kinds of targeted bioweapons. The international community will need to strongly address such threats in the near future.”

BERLIN — When the Austrian government passed a law this year allowing police to install closed-circuit surveillance cameras in public spaces without a court order, the Austrian civil liberties group Quintessenz vowed to watch the watchers.

Members of the organization worked out a way to intercept the camera images with an inexpensive, 1-GHz satellite receiver. The signal could then be descrambled using hardware designed to enhance copy-protected video as it’s transferred from DVD to VHS tape.

The Quintessenz activists then began figuring out how to blind the cameras with balloons, lasers and infrared devices.

And, just for fun, the group created an anonymous surveillance system that uses face-recognition software to place a black stripe over the eyes of people whose images are recorded.

Quintessenz members Adrian Dabrowski and Martin Slunksy presented their video-surveillance research at the 22nd annual Chaos Communication Congress here this week. Five hundred hackers jammed into a meeting room for a presentation that fit nicely into CCC’s 2005 theme of “private investigations.”

Slunksy pointed out that searching for special strings in Google, such as: axis-cgi/, will return links that access internet-connected cameras around the world. Quintessenz developers entered these Google results into a database, analyzed the IP addresses and set up a website that gives users the ability to search by country or topic — and then rate the cameras.

“You can use this to see if you are being watched in your daily life,” said Dabrowski.

The conference, hosted by Germany’s Chaos Computer Club, featured many discussions on data interception and pushing back the unprecedented onslaught of surveillance technologies.

Even the Dutch, once known as hacker-friendly, politically progressive Europeans, are now fearful and demanding more cameras on their streets, said Rop Gonggrijp, founder of Dutch ISP Xs4All.

Gonggrijp says the Dutch chief of police has announced the intention to store large amounts of surveillance data and mine it to determine who to pressure and question. “People are screaming for more control,” said Gonggrijp.

Dutch journalist Brenno de Winter warned that the European Parliament’s support for data retention doesn’t ensure security, and makes citizens vulnerable to automated traffic analysis of who communicates with whom through phone calls and internet connections. “What we have seen is a system that fails because we miss out on too much information, and even if we have all that information, it doesn’t give us the right information and it is easy to circumvent,” said de Winter.

CCC member and security researcher Frank Rieger said hackers should provide secure communications for political and social movements and encourage the widespread use of anonymity technologies. He said people on the other side of the camera need to be laughed at and shamed.

“It must not be cool anymore to have access to this data,” said Rieger, who argued that Western societies are becoming democratically legitimized police states ruled by an unaccountable elite. “We have enough technical knowledge to turn this around; let’s expose them in public, publish everything we know about them and let them know how it feels to be under surveillance.”

The four-day Chaos Computer Congress is meeting near Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin, where more than a half-million people rallied for political reform five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In his keynote address, Joichi Ito, general manager of international operations for Technorati, warned that the internet could itself become a walled-in network controlled by the International Telecommunication Union, Microsoft and telecommunications companies.

Ito said these restrictions would stifle free speech and the ability to question authority without retribution. “An open network is more important for democracy than the right to bear arms and the right to vote,” said Ito. “Voice is more important than votes.”

SAN FRANCISCO — Opponents long ago painted Wal-Mart, Microsoft and a handful of other behemoths into a rogue’s gallery of too-powerful corporations needing government restraint.

Now, a brash upstart with a “don’t be evil” mantra may soon join them: online search giant Google.

In just seven years, Google has emerged as one of the most influential companies of the 21st century, a multinational whose recent forays into classified ads, book publishing, video, Wi-Fi and telecom make its data empire ever more powerful. That’s pushing it into a growing buzz saw of competitors, such as Microsoft, and lawmakers worried about data privacy and protection.

“Google could easily become the poster child for a national public movement to regulate data collection,” says Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocate.

Google is building defenses to block government actions that slowed growth and innovation at other once-fast-growing companies. It is bolstering its new Washington lobbying office, on top of the $360,000 it paid a lobbying firm since 2003, public documents show. The Capitol Hill effort, starting so early, is in contrast to Wal-Mart and Microsoft, which suffered after ignoring Congress and antitrust regulators.

It recently named a new communications chief, Elliot Schrage, whose blue-chip background in law and sensitive issues such as offshoring shows Google is gearing up for more contentious times.

Founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched their $1 billion charitable arm in October. The Google Foundation came much more quickly than Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ foundation, which softened his digital dictator reputation. Gates didn’t start big philanthropy until 25 years after Microsoft’s start.

Google says the shift is to be expected as it adds competitors, becoming a bigger target. “We’re getting more public scrutiny,” says David Drummond, vice president of corporate development.

He says Google hasn’t lost sight of the “don’t be evil” pledge Brin and Page laid out last year. As Google expands, Drummond says, “We do that in an ethical and responsible way.” Nonetheless, he says, there will always be “people who don’t like what you do.”

Google started out golden

Its public image is stellar: a quirky start-up whose youthful founders want to put the world’s information at consumers’ fingertips — for free, no less.

Millions of users “Google” the Internet daily, making the company a cultural touchstone. It just made its debut at No. 3 on the Reputation Institute’s list of 60 most prominent U.S. companies; only perennial favorites Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola ranked higher.

Yet recent events have started jeopardizing Google’s underdog image, threatening to galvanize powerful interests that could slow its meteoric growth.

Google stock has soared above $400 a share, giving it a $119 billion market value, topping McDonald’s, Hewlett-Packard and other giants.

From the “Googleplex” headquarters in Silicon Valley’s Mountain View, Brin and Page, both 32, have become globe-trotting industrialists worth $15 billion each. They could soon displace Wal-Mart’s Walton family among the world’s wealthiest.

Board member and Stanford University President John Hennessy told authors of a new book, The Google Story, that Google now controls the world’s biggest computer network and database, bragging rights Wal-Mart has long claimed.

Google’s network of more than 100,000 computer servers cost so much to build, competitors may never catch up, he says. And it’s still growing; Google expects $800 million in capital spending this year vs. $319 million last year.

Revenue this year is expected to be $4 billion, up 25rom 2004, from tiny text ads companies pay to have shown next to Google users’ search results.

Google has nearly 5,000 employees and about two dozen foreign offices. Its website lists more than 700 job openings when many tech companies are scaling back. Among its newest targets: a push to beat Microsoft in hiring engineers and attracting consumers in the fastest-growing big economy, China.

Its aggressive expansion is beginning to worry Wall Street, where Google has been a darling since going public at $85 a share in August 2004. Shares closed Wednesday $404.22.

Lauren Fine, a media analyst at Merrill Lynch, warned in a Nov. 28 research note that the launch of services like Google Base classified advertising could tarnish its do-only-good reputation. “As Google’s newer businesses start to encroach on some otherwise profitable business models, we have to ask how they define evil,” Fine wrote.

Other observers wonder, too. Search engine expert John Battelle’s tech blog lit up with comments last week after New YorkMagazine reported a “seismic shift” in public sentiment, “from unalloyed Googlemania to gathering Googlephobia.”

As it tears into new markets, Google threatens politically powerful interests such as the real estate industry and print media. And it faces more scrutiny in data security, a subject it mentions among 20 pages of risk factors in its annual 10K filing with federal regulators.

Competitors, including Yahoo, cite similar risks. “There’s an arms race between companies collecting data and companies compromising it,” Drummond says.

Google stores users’ searches:

Unbeknownst to many users, privacy advocates like Chester say, Google’s technology gives it enormous power to collect data on the interests and online habits of millions of Web surfers.

Google stores every user’s searches in its growing database and index of websites, maps, photographs and other documents. Its free e-mail program, Gmail, stores all user messages — including deleted ones — forever.

Type someone’s name or phone number into Google’s search box and you’ll likely turn up a home address, allowing you to see an aerial photo of their house from the Google Earth satellite photo service, started last year.

Daniel Brandt in San Antonio, creator of the website, worries that law enforcement authorities or repressive foreign governments could demand access to Google’s database to examine users’ surfing habits.

“Google will become bigger and bigger, and they will be a massive problem in terms of Internet privacy,” Brandt says.

Drummond says Google’s privacy policy, on its website, discloses the risk of subpoenas. Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN post similar policies, their websites show.

Google’s growth comes when Congress is prodding data collectors such as banks and retailers after a series of high-profile thefts or losses of Social Security numbers, home addresses and other personal information.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last month passed a data privacy bill that goes to the full Senate. The bill, whose sponsors include Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would regulate data brokers, force more security and increase penalties for identity theft.

A breach of Google’s database could be a catalyst for more lawmaker attention. “That would be the Tylenol scare to end all Tylenol scares at Google,” Battelle says.

Likely nemesis list grows

Groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center say they don’t have the financial muscle to challenge Google the way organized labor went after Wal-Mart and competitors sicced the Justice Department on Microsoft. Revenue growth and innovation at Wal-Mart and Microsoft suffered as senior executives devoted more time to fending off legal attacks.

Yet Google’s incursions are riling better-financed opponents, especially Microsoft. The two are now jousting over a search partnership with Time Warner’s America Online. Time Warner’s talks with Microsoft and Google center on search and related ad sales and would replace its deal to use Google search services, which expires in 2006. Google got about 10f its revenue in the first nine months of this year from the pact.

The Google-Microsoft fight grew bitter in July, when Google nabbed a leading Microsoft computer scientist, Kai-Fu Lee, in charge of the software giant’s China push. Google named Lee president of its China research and development center. Microsoft and Google have sued each other over Lee’s defection.

That followed Google’s launch of Desktop search software, beating Microsoft to a tool that lets users quickly find all sorts of documents — including ones created with Microsoft software — stored on PCs.

Underlining its growing Google fear, Microsoft just launched a new software strategy emphasizing services like Google’s that could generate more search-based revenue.

Google launched a copyright battle with book publishers when it began copying books with Stanford and four other research libraries. The text will join Google’s searchable database. Users will be able to read small passages but not an entire book, Google says. Google says it can do so under the “fair use” legal doctrine. But the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild disagree. They have sued to stop Google.

The new Google Base also is provoking angst because it works as a free online classified ad service. Users fill Base with items like consumer electronics, job openings or homes for sale. That threatens newspapers, online auctioneers like eBay and job sites like Monster.

Base could send Google on a collision course with one of the USA’s most powerful lobbies, the National Association of Realtors, if the service siphons real estate listings from members’ crucial multiple listing service. The Realtor group’s political action committee gave $3.8 million to federal candidates for the 2004 elections — more than any other PAC, says the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign watchdog group.

Realtors spokesman Lucien Salvant said the group had no comment on Google’s recent moves.

A force to be reckoned with

Despite rising opposition, Google won’t be easily outflanked. A secondary stock offering three months ago added $4 billion to its war chest. [about the time of the NASA merger]

None of its initiatives comes close to the anti-competitive behavior alleged against Microsoft, says Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford professor and expert on cyberlaw. “They’re big. They’re successful. They’re powerful. They’re rich. Those are good things. What’s bad is anti-competitive behavior,” he says.

New communications chief Schrage, appointed in October, will lead a more global public relations offensive. Schrage, a Harvard graduate, was a senior fellow in business and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-partisan think tank.

Google also will draw on its lobbying office, led by Alan Davidson, a former computer scientist who was associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Drummond says Google expects to add one or two more lobbyists.

Google paid outside lobbying firm Public Policy Partners $100,000 in the first half of this year. Public documents show the firm’s interests included the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission and issues such as privacy, offshoring data, telecom reform, data breaches and security.

Even as Google mounts a more robust defense, Wall Street analysts like Fine are anxious. She warns that increased negative publicity adds to an already risky bet: “This stock is not for investors with a weak stomach.”

M.E.S.H. ‘Control Grid’

Posted: August 1, 2008 in 2005, Articles


Self-Organizing Neighborhood Wireless Mesh Networks

Watch our video on mesh networking (4 min. 6 sec.)


Researchers in Microsoft Research Redmond, Cambridge, and Silicon Valley are working to create wireless technologies that allow neighbors to connect their home networks together. There are many advantages to enabling such connectivity and forming a community mesh network. For example, when enough neighbors cooperate and forward each others packets, they do not need to individually install an Internet “tap” (gateway) but instead can share faster, cost-effective Internet access via gateways that are distributed in their neighborhood. Packets dynamically find a route, hopping from one neighbor’s node to another to reach the Internet through one of these gateways. Another advantage is that neighbors can cooperatively deploy backup technology and never have to worry about losing information due to a catastrophic disk failure. A third advantage is that this technology allows bits created locally to be used locally without having to go through a service provider and the Internet. Neighborhood community networks allow faster and easier dissemination of cached information that is relevant to the local community.

Community-based multi-hop wireless networks is disruptive to the current broadband Internet access paradigm, which relies on cable and DSL being deployed in individual homes. It is important because it allows free flow of information without any moderation or selective rate control. Compared to the large DSL and cable modem systems that are centrally managed, mesh networking is organic — everyone in the neighborhood contributes network resources and cooperates.

However, to realize the community-based goal, one has to solve many challenging problems including; capacity and range enhancement, privacy and security, self-stablizing and multi-path multi-hop routing, auto-configuration, bandwidth fairness, etc. In addition to solving the tough problems, success also depends on spectrum etiquette, business models, and economics. We are investigating some of the fundamental technical problems that continue to remain challenging despite several decades of research in packet radio networks. We have deployed testbed networks in our office buildings and in a local apartment complex.

Software Artifacts & Support

Click here to get our Mesh Networking Academic Resource Toolkit 2005

We implement ad-hoc routing and link quality measurement in a module that we call the Mesh Connectivity Layer (MCL). Architecturally, MCL is a loadable Microsoft Windows driver. It implements a virtual network adapter, so that to the rest of the system the ad-hoc network appears as an additional (virtual) network link. MCL routes using a modified version of DSR (an IETF protocol) that we call Link Quality Source Routing (LQSR). We have modified DSR extensively to improve its behavior, most significantly to support link quality metrics.

The MCL driver implements an interposition layer between layer 2 (the link layer) and layer 3 (the network layer). To higher layer software, MCL appears to be just another Ethernet link, albeit a virtual link. To lower layer software, MCL appears to be just another protocol running over the physical link.

This design has several significant advantages. First, higher layer software runs unmodified over the ad-hoc network. In our testbeds, we run both IPv4 and IPv6 over the ad-hoc network. No modifications to either network stack were required. Network layer functionality (for example ARP, DHCP, and Neighbor Discovery) just works. Second, the ad-hoc routing runs over heterogeneous link layers. Our current implementation supports Ethernet-like physical link layers (e.g. 802.11 and 802.3) but the architecture accommodates link layers with arbitrary addressing and framing conventions. The virtual MCL network adapter can multiplex several physical network adapters, so the ad-hoc network can extend across heterogeneous physical links. Third, the design can support other ad-hoc routing protocols as well.


Mailing List

We have a mailing list for discussing the Mesh Connectivity Layer. Please use this mailing list for questions about the release. To join the list, send “subscribe” email to Only subscribers can send email to the list at, but you can peruse the archives here.


Algorithms & Software

Antennas & Hardware

Spectrum Policy & Etiquette

Presentations (Keynotes & Plenary talks)



  • Researchers from Microsoft Research Redmond, Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Microsoft Research Silicon Valley.
  • As an intern, Yih-Chun Hu implemented DSR within the MCL framework; this was our starting point for developing LQSR.

Mesh Networking Academic Resource Toolkit 2005

If you are a faculty member or researcher at an accredited academic institution such as a university or college, you are invited to apply for our Mesh Networking Academic Resource Toolkit — a research and teaching resource for exploring core technologies in wireless networks. This contains all the software and documentation you will need to get started.