John Naughton: One man’s online politics is another man’s poison | John Naughton

We may end up with Kremlin-sponsored ads but the democratising effect of new technology opens the door to all voices

The Financial Times columnist Edward Luce had an interesting article in Thursday’s paper about the demonisation of Silicon Valley. “In the space of a few months,” Luce observes, “the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, the owner of Google, have gone from heroes to pariahs.”

All of which is true. The only problem is that outside the Washington Beltway – DC’s version of the M25 – few people seem terribly excited about the supposed evils of Facebook, Google and co. (That’s not entirely true: lots of intellectuals and commentators not in the United States, including this columnist, are concerned about these companies, so for current purposes we can think of the “Beltway” as a metaphorical filter bubble.) But outside that bubble, life goes on. People log on to Facebook every day and use Google to find recipes or train timetables, regardless of whether these platforms might be playing a role in undermining democracy.

Related: ‘From heroes to villains’: tech industry faces bipartisan backlash in Washington

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Digital Inspiration Technology Blog Schedule a Phone Call to Yourself and Politely Escape any Boring Situation

You have been invited to a meeting that would last really long. You cannot say “no” but secretly wish that someone calls your phone in the middle of that never-ending meeting and rescue you from the boring situation.

Well, you can take the help of a human friend or use IFTTT, the versatile automation app available for both iPhone and Android. With IFTTT, you can easily create a workflow (applet) that would simulate a fake phone call to yourself at the scheduled time and help you smoothly exit that meeting.

What’s new then? The phone calling service has been part of IFTTT for some time now but it was earlier limited to the U.S. region only. The latest version of the IFTTT app brings phone calling to everyone outside the U.S. as well. Let’s get started.

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Schedule an Automated Phone Call to Yourself

Create a free account at IFTTT and enable the Date Time service and the VoIP Call service.

Next, create a new applet and choose Date Time for the “this” condition. The trigger should be set to “Every day” and then choose the time when you want your phone to ring. If you wish to receive multiple calls, you’ll need to setup multiple applets, one per call.

For the “that” action, choose the VoIP call service and specify any text message. The calling service will speak the message when you receive the call. That’s it. Make sure your phone is connected to the Internet else the IFTTT applet won’t run.

Also see: How to Schedule Emails in Gmail

Ring your Mobile Phone on Demand

If you forgot to set the scheduled phone call, IFTTT offers another good option to help exit a situation. You can tap the IFTTT widget on your phone screen and it will simulate a phone call. Here’s how:

Install the IFTTT widget on your phone screen. Next, create a new applet like before but set the “this” condition to IFTTT’s own Button widget. For the “that” action, choose the “Call my Phone” action and specify the text that will play out during the call.

That’s it. Tap the widget on the phone, it fakes a call and you can politely excuse yourself.

Digital Inspiration Technology Blog Google Domains Go Live in India – The Best Place to Buy Domain Names

Google Domains, if you are new, is a domain registration service where you can buy new domain names or transfer your existing domains from another registrar into the Google service. There’s no official announcement yet but Google Domains are now available in India without you having to use any hacks or proxy servers.

I own about a dozen-odd domains and they have been mostly purchased through Gandi, GoDaddy, Dreamhost, and BigRock. Last week, I purchased a new domain reverse.photos through Google Domains and, like most other Google products, loved the overall experience.

Everything is tied to your main Google account so there’s one less set of credentials to remember and the account is already secured with 2-factor authentication.

Google Domain includes intelligent and powerful search that will not only suggest domain names based on exact keyword matches but related words too. So a search for “blue widgets” will check the availability of “blue widgets” as well as “color widgets”, “white widgets” and “blueplugins”.

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Google Domains aren’t cheap (see pricing). The average 1-year domain registration fee is certainly higher than what other companies offer but a big advantage is that they do not charge you extra money for making your postal address and phone number private in the public WHOIS database.

There’s no transfer fee if you decide to move your web domain from another registrar to Google Domains but, as per ICANN rules, you’ll have to extend the registration period of your domain for an additional year. This additional year is added to your domain’s existing registration.

The most convenient feature, however, is shared domain management. Just like you can allow external users to access your shared Google Doc, you can add collaborators to domains registered through Google Domains and they can manage the domain on your behalf. You’ll continue to remain the owner of the domain but others can manage the DNS settings or renew the domain on your behalf.

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Google Domains offer a simplified, hassle-free interface for managing domains, includes privacy by default, the pricing is straight-forward and the domain be easily integrated with G Suite (Google Apps) for email. It might be worth considering when you are out to buy a domain for your next million dollar idea.

John Naughton: Why Facebook is in a hole over data mining | John Naughton

It’s Mark Zuckerberg’s business model that allows Facebook to be is manipulated by political activists – no wonder he’s in denial about it

One of my favourite books is The Education of Henry Adams (published in 1918). It’s an extended meditation, written in old age by a scion of one of Boston’s elite families, on how the world had changed in his lifetime, and how his formal education had not prepared him for the events through which he had lived. This education had been grounded in the classics, history and literature, and had rendered him incapable, he said, of dealing with the impact of science and technology.

Re-reading Adams recently left me with the thought that there is now an opening for a similar book, The Education of Mark Zuckerberg. It would have an analogous theme, namely how the hero’s education rendered him incapable of understanding the world into which he was born. For although he was supposed to be majoring in psychology at Harvard, the young Zuckerberg mostly took computer science classes until he started Facebook and dropped out. And it turns out that this half-baked education has left him bewildered and rudderless in a culturally complex and politically polarised world.

Related: ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

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John Naughton: Jeff Bezos has his shops, so now Mark Zuckerberg wants a whole town | John Naughton

Strange how history repeats itself. Amazon is following the model of Sears Roebuck and Facebook seems to have taken a page out of a railroad tycoon’s book

The abiding problem with writing about digital technology is how to avoid what the sociologist Michael Mann calls “the sociology of the last five minutes”. There’s something about the technology that reduces our collective attention span to that of newts. This is how we wind up obsessing over the next iPhone, the travails of Uber, Facebook being weaponised by Russia, Samsung’s new non-combustible smartphone and so on. It’s mostly a breathless search for what Michael Lewis once called “the new new thing”.

We have become mesmerised by digital technology and by the companies that control and exploit it. Accordingly, we find it genuinely difficult to judge whether a particular development is really something new and unprecedented or just a contemporary variant on something that is much older.

Related: ‘From heroes to villains’: tech industry faces bipartisan backlash in Washington

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Digital Inspiration Technology Blog How to do Reverse Image Search on your Mobile Phone

Google Reverse Image Search helps you quickly discover visually similar images from around the web. Upload a photograph from your desktop to Google Images and it will show you related images used on other websites and also different sizes of the same photo almost instantly.

Journalists can use the reverse search option to find the original source of an image or to know the approximate date when a picture was first published on the Internet. Photographers can use ‘search by image’ feature to know about other websites that are using their photographs.

Reverse Image Search on Mobile Devices

Google’s ‘search by image’ feature is only available for desktop computers and not on mobile devices and tablets. Thus, if a friend has sent you an image on WhatsApp or Facebook that you’d like to verify, you’ll have to first transfer the photograph to a desktop and then perform a reverse search. Too much work, right?

Reverse Image Search

Not anymore. Meet Reverse Photos, an online tool that lets you perform reverse image searches on mobile phones. Go to reverse.photos on your mobile phone, click the “Upload Image” button and choose an image from the photo gallery of your phone. Next click “Show Matching Images” and it will feed your photo into Google’s image database and show visually similar photos.

Find related images with Google Images on a mobile device.
Find related images with Google Images on a mobile device.

You can either upload pics available your Photo Library, or you can take a new picture with your phone’s camera, or upload existing images from your cloud storage services like iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive. All inside the comfort of your mobile phone or tablet.

Also see: Find out where a picture was taken

There’s another workaround as well that will let you use the official Google Image Search website for reverse search on a mobile device. Open the Chrome browser on Android and under settings, choose “Request Desktop Site.” Now open images.google.com and you should see the Camera icon to upload an image for searching.

John Naughton: The tide is starting to turn against the world’s digital giants | John Naughton

Multimillion fines are just the start for Facebook and Google, as the world comes to realise how political big tech has become

In his wonderful book The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began, the literary historian Stephen Greenblatt traces the origins of the Renaissance back to the rediscovery of a 2,000-year-old poem by Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). The book is a riveting explanation of how a huge cultural shift can ultimately spring from faint stirrings in the undergrowth.

Professor Greenblatt is probably not interested in the giant corporations that now dominate our world, but I am, and in the spirit of The Swerve I’ve been looking for signs that big changes might be on the way. You don’t have to dig very deep to find them.

These companies have inadvertently acquired the ability to shape our politics

Related: Silicon Valley has been humbled. But its schemes are as dangerous as ever | Evgeny Morozov

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John Naughton: It’s one rule for big data, another for its victims | John Naughton

The massive – and avoidable – data breach at credit agency Equifax has left millions of consumers at risk, but don’t expect anyone to be held to account

Last week, much of the tech world was temporarily unhinged by a circus in Cupertino, where a group of ageing hipster billionaires unveiled some impressive technology while miming the argot of teenage fandom (incredible, amazing, awesome, etc) and pretending that they were changing the world. Meanwhile, over in the real world, another tech story was unfolding. Except that this is not just a tech story: it’s a morality tale about how we have come to inhabit a world in which corporate irresponsibility, incompetence and greed goes unpunished, while little people can’t get a loan because they have an incorrect blemish on their credit records, which is almost impossible to detect and correct.

This story concerns Equifax, an outfit of which I’m guessing you’ve never heard. Nor had I. It’s one of the three largest American credit agencies (the others are Experian and TransUnion). Its business – its only business – is to collect, securely store and aggregate information on more than 800 million individual consumers and nearly 90m businesses worldwide. If your application for a loan is declined, or your credit card suddenly ceases to work, the chances are that it’s because some kind of warning flag has popped up on the screens of one of these three companies. So the personal information that these agencies hold is the most sensitive and potent kind of data there is.

Equifax will continue its erratic custody of precious data because it’s too important to the US economy to be shut down

Related: How credit score agencies have the power to make or break lives

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John Naughton: Why workers’ right don’t matter in Silicon Valley | John Naughton

The leaders of the world’s biggest technology companies are liberal on social issues and trade, but anti-union and anti-regulation

One of the stranger sights of June was watching the titans of Silicon Valley meekly obeying Trump’s summons to a tech summit (dubbed his American Technology Council) at the White House. Those attending included Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Safra Catz of Oracle, Tim Cook of Apple, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins (the venture-capital firm), Brian Krzanich of Intel, Tom Leighton of Akamai, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Ginni Rometty of IBM, Eric Schmidt of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Steve Mollenkopf of Qualcomm. The only tech leader who was invited but explicitly declined was Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and other ventures. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cited diary clashes as an explanation for his non-attendance.)

Some attendees looked pretty sheepish, as well they might. Many, if not most of them, abhor everything the president stands for. The meeting, as with many of Trump’s other round-table assemblies, brought to mind footage of Saddam Hussein’s cabinet in session. But while it was clear that many of those present would have preferred to have been elsewhere, they were also chary of being seen to snub a populist hero. So the aphrodisiac effect of power was much in evidence.

Silicon Valley’s elite are highly cosmopolitan in outlook, favouring free trade and more permissive immigration rules

Related: Trump tells tech CEOs that Washington needs to ‘catch up with the revolution’

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John Naughton: Why this woman strikes fear into the net’s big boys | John Naughton

US senator Claire McCaskill’s bid to clarify the act that gives internet firms a get out of jail card over content published on their sites has alarmed Silicon Valley

One of the things we learned in 2016 was how the internet is affecting democratic politics. We discovered how fake news spreads like wildfire through social networks, how Google’s dominance of search and ownership of YouTube can distort the public sphere and how “alt-right” political activists have mastered the affordances of the technology to build a formidable propaganda system. We also discovered what we ought to have known a long time ago, namely that the internet holds up a mirror to human nature, and that some of what we see reflected in it ain’t pretty.

Throughout all of this it’s been instructive to observe the intellectual contortions of the internet giants. Their pole position has always been a claim to the freehold of the moral high ground. They stand by the first amendment to the US constitution and are mere conduits for the free expression of free citizens. It is not for them to determine what can and cannot be uttered on their platforms. And if some of what is uttered is tasteless, cruel or otherwise vile, well, that’s just how folks are. If Google’s search algorithms favoured sites that specialised in hate speech, antisemitism and worse, well that was nothing to do with Google. After all, none of its employees was involved in highlighting that stuff.

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