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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wikileaks and Conspiracy Theories on the Internet

This article written by Ian Vella appeared on the Sunday Times Tech-Sunday 14 Aug 2010

Although the Internet has become a place for serious research and business, it is often an unpredictable and wild place. This is because the Internet is a free medium — a place where anyone can publish just about anything. There are hardly any restrictions on what can or cannot be published or leaked and subsequently viewed by the general public.

Take, for instance, the multitude of conspiracy theories that flourish on the Internet. Just Google “conspiracy theories”, and you are sure to come across thousands of them, many of which are incredibly absurd.  Elvis is still alive many would claim! JFK was assassinated by the Vatican, the US president is controlled by aliens and the music industry is planting subliminal messages in the minds of listeners.

  These are just a few of the most evident examples!
Others talk of secret medical examinations and experiments on unsuspecting patients by villainous doctors. Many of these conspiracy theories have become extremely popular simply because people like to read about them — there’s a kind of thrill that they get out of them.

The fact is that, most of these theories are quite ridiculous and most are evidently false however since WikiLeaks.com has been launched in January 2007 conspiracy theories took a somber turn of events.  Wikileaks is a website similar to wikipedia and wikitravel in concept, whereby the website itself is user edited and the content may be uploaded by anyone in the world.  The owners of wikileaks.com describe this website as a “Multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.  WikiLeaks endeavors to civilize private companies by exposing uncivil plans and behavior. Just like a country, a corrupt or unethical company is a menace to all inside and outside it.”  This means that someone can submit a theory and others continue building on it, either approving or disapproving it.  Most of time the editors request supporting documents before publishing any story.  Wikileaks is controlled by a non-profit Swedish organization and today counts in excess of 1.2 million documents on this website.



Sunday, February 28, 2010

The World is Mine - Can you imagine the world without Google?

From a simple search engine, Google moved on to e-mail, mapping, web browser and now, mobile phones. Is Google set for world dominion, asks Ian Vella. 

 Published on the Sunday Times (TechSunday) 28th February 2010


Almost a decade-and-a-half ago, two Stanford PhD students set up Google as part of a research project. Since then, it has become one of the world's most powerful ICT companies, thanks to its crown jewel, the Google Search Engine. The latter changed the way we search for information, the way we study, and the way news is delivered to us. Then in 2000, Google introduced simple text advertisements alongside search results - the huge profits helped the company's top executives realise what real potential Google held. 

Four years later the company went public and started offering its shares at $85 each. In 2010 the stock is trading at around $630. Eventually, Google not only became the world's most utilised internet search engine but also started expanding its operations to offer other online services like Gmail and Google-Docs. This move put them in direct competition with other 1CT giants, especially Microsoft. Despite its widespread use, Google is harshly criticised by privacy advocates. Most of the attacks are directed against the fact that Google records unique IP addresses, the daily 200 million search queries from around the world, and all e-mails passing through its network.

This information is stored on Google's servers for an undefined period of time. Google defends this approach by stating that such information is later analysed in order to improve user experience. Google also insists that at no point does it sort its data based on a particular individual use of its services. This may put some minds at rest, that although it is theoretically possible for Google to see what you have been searching for in the last years and what e-mails you received, the Big G - the name many privacy activists use to refer to Google, with an obvious Orwellian reference - wouldn't do so.