Politics

26 posts categorized

January 27, 2015

Net Neutrality Vote Happening on February 26th

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During a discussion at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will vote on a proposal to reinstate Net neutrality rules. The vote will take place at an open commission meeting on February 26th. 

Wheeler also said the proposal will circulate among commissioners beginning February 5th, and while he didn’t delve into specifics, Wheeler alluded the new proposal will “reclassify broadband traffic” as part of Title II utility. Some supporters believe this reclassification will put new neutrality rules on “stronger legal footing.”  

In November 2014 President Obama encouraged the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under Title II of the Communications Act, though Wheeler has not said whether he supports the president’s suggestion. 

Net neutrality is defined as the idea that all online traffic is subject to fair treatment by broadband providers, meaning no restrictions or preferential treatment is bestowed on certain types of traffic. The FCC is working on new rules that will replace those adopted in 2010.

The issue of broadband traffic reclassification has been one of the hotter issues regarding the net neutrality debate, with large broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T noting reclassification will “stifle innovation” via imposed, antiquated telecommunications regulation for an industry they believe has evolved positively despite no government regulation. However, other consumer advocates and Internet companies such as Netflix say broadband service reclassification is the only option for ensuring new Net neutrality rules hold up in future court challenges.  

During his discussion with Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro, Wheeler made it quite clear that the FCC’s approach to the proposal will not include “all of the restrictions under Title II meant for traditional telephony networks to broadband.” Rather, the proposed rules would “forbear or exclude” broadband from clinging to Communications Act provisions that don’t apply to broadband service. 

He said the idea is to make certain that the agency can “provide a legal standing” for rules prohibiting broadband providers from “blocking content, throttling traffic, or offering a paid prioritization service.” The other idea is to ensure Internet service providers manage their wares in a way that is transparent to customers.

"The wireless industry has been wildly successful as a Title II regulated industry," he said. "So there is a way to do it right."

Wireless industry reps disagree with Wheeler in terms of Title II restrictions on broadband. 

"Comparisons to the regulatory framework for mobile voice are misplaced and irrelevant," Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO,CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. "Congress created a regulatory regime for mobile voice under Section 332 and Title II. Congress also created a separate regulatory regime - -explicitly outside Title II -- for other services like mobile broadband. The FCC cannot now rewrite Congress's intent to rewrite the Act or rewrite history."

Wheeler has also remarked that he has “no intention of allowing broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet of haves and have nots." The vote later this month will hopefully settle some much debated issues around this topic. 

January 19, 2015

How Does the World’s Most Powerful Organization Rule with Outdated Technology?

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The United States has the strongest economy in the world, and therefore its government should have access to the latest devices and cutting-edge tech. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has had a problem getting its equipment up-to-date. Despite the creation of the technology cabinet position by President Obama, the Chief Technology Officer appears to have little control over the deployment of state-of-the-art equipment throughout government departments.

Megan J. Smith is President Obama’s top technology adviser, and with her background we may expect to see a great deal of change in government tech. She matriculated at MIT, and spent a good deal of her career working in various departments at Google – the divisions that developed Google Glass and the driverless car, as well as the acquisition of Google Maps and Google Earth. Clearly, her reputation precedes her. 

So why is the Chief Technology Officer using a BlackBerry?

In a recent New York Times article, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported that Smith is using a Blackberry and a 2013 Dell Laptop. These are not considered outdated technology by government standards, because the Administration has had a history of being a little behind the tech curve. As evidenced by the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov, perhaps we should expect this of the devices that the government chooses to use.

Because of her direct connection to the executive office, Smith will have the opportunity to convince the Obama administration to recruit technologists who can build a proper infrastructure for digital services. A drawback of the relative newness of her position is that there is very little funding available in the budget for the Chief Technology Adviser. Furthermore, the position doesn’t have any authority over other agencies. This makes the implementation of new technology a very difficult task for Smith. 

Fortunately, America’s CTO has a history of problem-solving in her career. She has gained a reputation as a woman with big ideas, and of course she has a great deal of confidence and expertise in the area. Regarding the necessity of a technological update, she stated: “We’re on it. This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.” (New York Times)

We’re likely to see some exciting updates to technology in government. Megan J. Smith has the bona fides necessary to help the United States catch up with the rest of the modern world. Only time will tell how long – and with what resources – it will take the Chief Technology Officer to implement these sweeping digital infrastructure changes.

 

January 02, 2015

6 of the Best: Green Apps

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Mobile tech has made rapid advances in recent years. It’s reached a point where traditional desktop web browsers are beginning to look anachronistic. Apps and mobile-friendly interfaces not only provide a better customer experience, they are constantly evolving to change with the times. 

One of the key concerns for modern manufacturers and retailers is the desire to minimize the ecological toll their business takes. If they fail to judge public opinion, which is turning greener by the year, their bottom line will suffer. Commensurate with the rise in eco-consciousness is the mobile app boom. After all, software already has a headstart when it comes to lowering carbon emissions: no factories, no large commuting workforce, no production line. Just (generally speaking) some computer-wielding geeks and a good idea. 

Eco-friendly apps go further, actively helping their users live greener lifestyles. We’ve trawled the web (using virtual-dolphin friendly nets, natch) to bring you the very best green apps on the market: 

1) 3rd Whale

A brilliant guide to all things green in your area, 3rd Whale helps you find the nearest vegan restaurant, organic café or bike shop, wherever you are. As well as providing location information, the app serves up the details of a specific company’s green credentials so you can make sure you’re dealing with the right people. 

2) Earth 911 

This smart little app has been advocating a greener lifestyle for ages now, and they recently launched a free iRecycle app too. Ideal if you’re looking for recycling centres, iRecycle grants access to details for more than 100,000 of them. Find your nearest centre, as well as maps, routes, opening hours and a list of the materials that can be recycled there. With Earth911, you’ll never have an excuse for throwing anything to landfill!

3) GoodGuide

Helping you find everything from energy-efficient household appliance to green gifts for friends, GoodGuide Mobile is an indispensable little app. It provides access to more than 250,000 green products, each with detailed reviews and eco-ratings. 

4) GreenMeter

Green Meter helps you reduce energy consumption and get more mileage out of your vehicle by calculating how much gas you’re using and offering advice on how to improve your fuel efficiency. Like all the best green apps, it’s twin appeal lies in offering ordinary drivers the chance to save money and the planet.

5) Eco Dice

A fun way to turn good intentions into positive change, Eco Dice is devastatingly simple. You simply toss a die on your mobile device, but instead of numbers, the faces contain green tasks for you to fulfil during the day. Options include separating trash, taking your own bags to the grocery store and turning off appliances on standby.

6) Carbon Tracker

This free app uses GPS to calculate your carbon footprint according to how many miles you travel. It factors in emissions from different forms of transport, and even allows you to switch from miles to kilometers in case you’re travelling abroad.

 

November 03, 2014

Text Messages Now Considered 'Official Government Documents'

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Imagine getting fired over a text message.

The United States House of Representatives decided in September of this year to include text messages “among the electronic communications federal employees could be fired for improperly destroying.”

Called the Federal Records Accountability Act and introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., it addresses any federal employees an inspector general found knowingly “concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, falsified, or destroyed any record, book, or other thing” controlled by the offending employees. Republicans and Democrats alike supported the bill, which was approved unanimously by voice vote.

The bill also prevents federal employees from using personal devices to conduct official business unless an electronic record of the communication is created. All email, instant messages or text messages sent from a personal device regarding agency business must be officially recorded. A worker found guilty of manipulating records would face suspension and receive a written statement of the charges within 15 days. The worker can defend him or herself in the 15 days after receiving the notice, and has the right to a Merit Systems Protection Board hearing and appeal.

Meadows says the bill is “common sense legislation,” and that it will improve transparency and historical preservation.

“Intentional destruction of records is a criminal act,” Meadows noted. “Federal employees found guilty of such a crime should be fired.”

Scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency prompted the bill, as employees of each were charged with purposefully destroying records. Criticisms by lawmakers concerning federal managers using personal devices for official business is nothing new, however.

“It wasn’t one agency,” Meadows said, “it was plethora of agencies that have communication going on a regular basis that isn’t being preserved.”

Yet the Project on Government Oversight does not fully support the bill as the optimal way to deal with the transparency issues raised by the IRS and EPA scandals. Joe Newman, a POGO spokesman, told Government Executive the bill was “too narrow” and mainly punished “whistleblowers.”

“We're always happy when Congress moves to increase transparency and accountability but we're not sure this bill is the best way to do that,” Newman said. “There are long-standing problems with federal record keeping practices that need to be addressed but it might be a better approach if Congress looked at the system as a whole, rather than tailoring legislation to address a specific scandal.”

Some government agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are expanding use of Short Message Service (SMS) technology to provide better services. It has also been suggested that government text messages should be used in other ways. Texting is most popular among young people, and could be a vehicle for the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send anti-smoking messages.

 

 

October 27, 2014

Integrity of Whisper App Questioned

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The firm behind social media app Whisper is tracking the location of its users – despite claiming to be ‘the safest place on the internet’ in terms of anonymity. The company is also sharing information from phones known to be used in military bases with the US Department of Defense, according to a recent Guardian expose.

Whisper users currently publish around two-and-a-half million messages a day. Their principal selling point is anonymity, but the Guardian report alleges the company has developed an in-house mapping tool allowing them to locate users to within 500 meters. The British newspaper also claims Whisper has been handing user locations to the Department of Defense. 

According to the Guardian, Whisper has been storing data since their 2012 launch. At that time, much of their brand image was predicated on a policy of holding data only for ‘a brief period of time’ and allowing those who don’t wish to be tracked to opt out of geo-location.

But the Guardian claims Whisper has been storing data even on users who specifically opted out. The news will be particularly alarming to military personnel who have used the platform to unburden themselves of traumatic events witnessed or experienced in the line of duty. Many soldiers use the app to share suicidal feelings and symptoms of PTSD and to discuss other topics they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about on social media outlets like Facebook. 

The Guardian says Whisper has shared user data with law enforcement agencies, the FBI and MI5, a practice Whisper contends is standard in the tech industry – and only in situations where there is evidence of criminal behavior or imminent suicide.

Whisper has denied the allegations, saying it ‘does not follow or track users’ and dismissing the suggestion they were monitoring people without consent as ‘false’. CEO Michael Heyward issued a ten point riposte to the Guardian and suspended his editor-in-chief when the allegations came to light. He insists Whisper is only sharing information with the DoD when there is an investigation into frequent mentions of self-harm, adding “[We] are proudly working with many organizations to lower suicide rates.”

Heyward has been summoned to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the app’s privacy policy.

Whisper has experienced rapid growth over the past two years and is now valued at more than $200m. The app tapped into a growing demand for private, confessional platforms which purport to foster more candid public discussions about sensitive issues like suicide.

Whisper has updated it’s terms and conditions since the story broke. 

September 30, 2014

SMS: Crime Fighter

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Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.

One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.

Tip Offs

A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.

Campus Crime

In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.

Human Trafficking

Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.

Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.

Misdemeanors

It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.

August 22, 2014

Germany Harnessing 'Silent Texts' to Locate Cell Phones

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In Germany, police and intelligence agencies have been using ‘silent’ SMS messages to locate cell phones without their owners’ knowledge. Details of the covert practice emerged after a parliamentarian expressed alarm at the escalation of secret text dispatches; the government responded with an admission that 125,000 such messages were sent during the first six months of 2013 alone. That number has increased this year, with 150,000 silent SMS messages sent between January and June. 

The text messages are not displayed on cell phones, but when sent en masse to a single device, can be used to precisely locate the user and observe their movements within a network. Parliamentary approval is required before each individual can be tracked.

But Andrej Hunko of the Left party raised alarm at what he termed ‘spy-SMS’ messages, prompting the government to reveal the number of German residents who had been targeted by the dispatches. According to the figures, domestic intelligence agency VfS had sent nearly 53,000 secret texts during the first half of 2014. Federal police had sent almost 69,000, and the Federal Criminal Office – Germany’s investigative police – had sent more than 34,000. The figures did not include silent text messages sent by foreign intelligence agents, customs officials or the army’s intelligence service.

However, the government did disclose details about surveillance, admitting that the Federal Criminal Office – or BKA – had eavesdropped on 704 separate calls, emails or text messages during 2014 so far.

The international community has expressed some surprise about the revelations, especially in light of the recent scandal regarding U.S. surveillance of world leaders. Surveillance is understandably a very sensitive issue in Germany, and many feel government has acted hypocritically with the use of clandestine SMS tracking technology. We await the full figures for 2014 with interest…

August 03, 2014

Hispanic Market Growth Reaches New Heights

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Though we are still in the early days of mobile marketing, new technologies are allowing businesses to share their brand in revolutionary ways. Reports about new advertising techniques and ways to reach consumers on their mobile devices are flooding the blogosphere. But are advertisers paying attention to the changing face of the mobile marketplace? The real news flash: The Hispanic Market represents the fastest growing segment in the U.S.

This information from the Census Bureau and Nielsen is not really new. Marketers have been watching for years as this minority has grown into a significant force in the advertising world. Currently about 1 in 6 Americans are Hispanics. By the year 2050, however, Hispanics will represent one-third of the entire American populace.

These statistics are even more significant when we look at buying power. Hispanics command over $1 Trillion dollars in spending capital. The media have been aware of their buying power for a couple of years now: in 2012, the U.S. media spent $7.9 billion in advertising dollars that target Hispanic consumers.

Market analysts have been mining this data to find out what makes Hispanic consumers tick. The average age of Hispanics is 28 years old, and nearly 8% of Hispanics use their mobile devices to seek out content. Neilsen studies have shown that Hispanics outpace all other ethnic groups in mobile downloads of music and photos, and they are more likely than others to watch video on their mobile phones. Most Hispanics age 18 or older spend about 4.5 hours per day using social media. About half of Hispanics use social media during purchases, in the form of product reviews, the best deals, and to share their own shopping experiences. By incorporating this data into their strategies, mobile marketers have the opportunity to take advantage of how and where Hispanics spend their money.

Hispanics are also heavy phone users. On average, they send and receive more than 900 texts per month – more than any other ethnic group. Also, they make an average of thirteen calls per day, which is 40% more than the average U.S. consumer.

Hispanic consumers have a history of committing to certain brands. They are 25% more likely to follow a brand than the average U.S. adult. In a recent survey, 38% of Hispanics admitted that they generally select certain brands when they have customer loyalty programs. In a similar fashion: Hispanics are 18% more likely to follow a celebrity. 

According to Nielsen, Hispanic video viewers are 68% more likely than non-Hispanic White viewers to watch video on the Internet, and 20% more likely to watch video on their mobile phone. This may be due to the fact that Hispanics are less likely to have internet access at home than the average U.S. consumer (14% less likely, in fact).

There is a wealth of data available surrounding customers in today’s fast-paced world of mobile marketing. Knowing the ways that Hispanics choose to do business can give you a leg up against the competition. By approaching the Hispanic population with a mobile app, service, or direct mobile marketing, marketers can successfully target a consumer base that practice brand loyalty and constant engagement. It’s time for mobile marketers to wake up to the thriving Hispanic market.

June 30, 2014

How SMS is Revolutionizing Emerging Economies

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Since 2007, individual farmers in developing countries are estimated to have made up to $4000 in additional profits and saved twice as much – and it’s all thanks to SMS messaging.

First trialed in India, and now being rolled out in other emerging economies, Reuters Market Light (RML) has had a truly revolutionary impact on the lives of rural workers since being introduced. This noble scheme was designed to level the playing field for remote farmers operating in a globalized marketplace. The service acts as a watchdog-cum-information-hub for agricultural commerce, issuing crucial information to people who may not have internet access.

It’s a far cry from the sophisticated mobile marketing tactics employed in the western world, but RML has demonstrated just how powerful SMS messaging can be in the absence of smartphones and web connectivity. Thus far, millions of farmers all over the world have received vital updates throughout the season, with information tailored to the specific needs of an individual’s profile. Information like regional and global market rates for crops; local weather data and disaster alerts; advice on increasing productivity and reducing risk, and other information that could have an impact on operational costs.

The scheme is intended to safeguard vulnerable workers against exploitative middlemen who seek to undercut them. There’s no shortage of compelling testimony to the efficacy of the work being done by RML. One story tells of a grape farmer who began exporting produce to Russia after learning of the country’s higher prices. It’s estimated that a staggering 1.2 million farmers in India are using the program to improve their chances.

RML offers a moving demonstration of how the humble mobile phone can help some of the world’s poorest people without the bells and whistles of the smartphones which proliferate among the world’s richest. SMS messaging, it seems, is powerful enough to raise living standards and brings some semblance of equality to a globalized economy. Kenya has used SMS messaging payment programs to reduce robbery statistics, with an amazing 25% of the country’s GDP now flowing through the M-Pesa system.

Studies indicate that introducing ten cell phones per one hundred people in the developing world can boost economic growth by 1%. RML, M-Pesa, and others are truly improving the lot of some of the hardest-hit regions on earth, giving citizens cheaper services, better access to crucial economic data, and ultimately creating greater expectations about acceptable living standards.

 

May 02, 2014

Using Emojis in Text Marketing

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Remember the early days of Web 1.0? Every site had a garish color scheme. Pioneering html coders took a fast and loose approach to formatting. Most of all, those early developers were extremely limited in terms of the type of content they could provide. It was all huge blocks of text, presented in one of the seven or so fonts available at the time (none of them attractive).

 

Look how far we’ve come in twenty years. The inexorable rise of video and photo sharing apps like Instagram, Hulu, YouTube and SnapChat indicate an audience that overwhelmingly prefers visual content over plain text.

 

The evolution of an increasingly passive, content-hungry audience has thrown up some major challenges for mobile marketing campaign strategists. How do you keep visual content fresh? This is a particular challenge for small businesses who lack the budget to keep generating exciting new content.

 

Emojis are a fantastic method of adding some color and vim to your campaign without spending too much cash. Originally from Japan, these tiny pictographs represent emotions, objects, ideas and much more. In 2011, after Apple added them as a language option, their popularity had exploded.

 

Why are they so useful for mobile marketing campaigns? Well, even the very best writers can have their text misconstrued; not everything can be communicated through words. Emojis can convey certain emotions and tones of voice in a way that mere words cannot.

 

Emojis have been used with great success by a number of mobile marketing campaigns, including PETA’s Cruelty Beyond Words initiative. The target demographic was principally a young audience who tend to engage less with charitable causes. Realistic, vivid emojis have been used to encourage young people to share information about the initiative, with PETA supporters able to text a red heart emoji to 73822.

 

Branded emojis are helping companies and organizations of all stripes reach more of the 80%+ of US mobile users who send text messages. The ubiquity of texting makes it the perfect platform for mobile marketing managers to engage with audiences – especially younger people. And for important social movements, where images are often more powerful than words, emojis are becoming an essential part of the fabric of mobile communication.