Spread the word – Occupy the Internet

Right now at a UN meeting in Dubai, authoritarian regimes are pushing for full governmental control of the Internet in a binding global treaty — if they succeed, the internet could become less open, more costly and much slower. We have only 2 days to stop them.

The Internet has been an amazing example of people power — allowing us to connect, speak out and pressure leaders like never before. That’s largely because it’s been governed to date by users and non-profits and not governments. But now countries like Russia, China and United Arab Emirates are trying to rewrite a major telecom treaty called the ITR to bring the Internet under its control — the web would then be shaped by government interests and not by us, the users. Tim Berners Lee, one of the “fathers of the Internet,” has warned that this could increase censorship online and invade our privacy. But if we object with a massive people-powered petition, we can strengthen the hand of countries fighting this power grab.

We have stopped attacks like this before and can do it again before the treaty text is locked this week. A wave of opposition to a new ITR is already building — sign the petition to tell governments hands off our Internet! and then forward this email to everyone you know — when we hit 1 million signers, it’ll be delivered straight to the delegates at this cozy meeting.

The meeting to update the ITR (International Telecommunication Regulations) is being convened by a UN body called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Normally, it wouldn’t merit much attention, but Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and others are trying to use the meeting to increase government control of the Internet through proposals that would allow for access to be cut off more easily, threaten privacy, legitimize monitoring and traffic-blocking, and introduce new fees to access content online.

At the moment, our Internet has no central regulatory body, but various non-profit organisations work together to manage different technological, commercial and political interests to allow the Internet to run. The current model is certainly not without its flaws. US dominance and corporate influence highlight the need for reform, but changes should not be dictated from an opaque governments-only treaty body. They should emerge from an open and transparent, people-powered process — putting the interests of us users in the center.

The ITU does extremely important work — expanding affordable access for poor countries and securing networks — but it’s not the right place to make changes to how the Internet operates. Let’s ensure that our Internet stays free and governed by the public and show the ITU and the world that we won’t stay silent in the face of this Internet attack. Click here to sign and then share this email widely.

Avaaz members have come together before to save the free web — and won. More than 3 million of us demanded the US kill a bill that would have given the government the right to shut down any website, helping push the White House to drop its support. In the EU, the European Parliament responded after 2.8 million of us called on them to drop ACTA, another threat to the free net. Together, now we can do it again.

With hope,

Pascal, Ian, Paul, Luca, Caroline and the rest of the Avaaz team

SOURCES

Cerf and Berners Lee Criticize ITU Conference (IT Pro Portal):
http://www.itproportal.com/2012/12/05/sir-tim-berners-lee-joins-criticism-of-un-internet-regulation-talks/#ixzz2EDlH06f5

ITU and Google face off at Dubai conference over future of the internet (Guardian):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/dec/03/telecoms-unitednations

Keep the Internet Open (New York Times):
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/opinion/keep-the-internet-open.html?_r=1&

Proposal for global regulation of web (Financial Times):
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/1b114d8c-422e-11e2-bb3a-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2EdnmBAXI

Who controls the Internet? (Guardian):
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/17/who-rules-internet



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SMS' Can Relieve Stressed, Lonely People

SMS Text Messages Relieve Stressed, Lonely PeopleBERKELEY — Text messaging often gets a bad rap for contributing to illiteracy and high-risk behaviour such as reckless driving. But a social welfare professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has found an upside to texting, especially for people who feel stressed out, isolated and alone.

Text messages in cognitive behaviour therapy can make people feel less isolated

Adrian Aguilera, a clinical psychologist who treats many low-income Latinos for depression and other mental disorders, said his patients report feeling more connected and cared for when they receive text messages asking them to track their moods, reflect on positive interactions, and take their prescribed medications.

“When I was in a difficult situation and I received a message, I felt much better. I felt cared for and supported. My mood even improved,” reported one Spanish-speaking patient in Aguilera’s cognitive behavior therapy group at San Francisco General Hospital.

The project began in 2010 when Aguilera developed a customized “Short Message Service (SMS)” intervention program, with the help of UCSF psychologist Ricardo Munoz,  in which Aguilera’s patients were sent automated text messages prompting them to think and reply about their moods and responses to positive and negative daily interactions.

The psychologists published the results of the project last year in the journal, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Aguilera has since been awarded a $75,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We are harnessing a technology that people use in their everyday lives to improve mental health in low-income, under-served communities,” said Aguilera, whose passion for addressing mental health issues among the poor was sparked while growing up in a Mexican immigrant community in Chicago.

Recent statistics bear out Aguilera’s outreach strategy. The 2011 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project survey found that African American and Latino mobile phone owners send and receive more text messages than do Caucasians.

Of the 2,277 adult cell phone users surveyed by the Pew Foundation, the most active senders and receivers of text messages (at least 50 messages a day) were non-whites, earned incomes below $30,000 and did not graduate from high school.

Aguilera came up with the texting idea when he realized that many of his patients had difficulty applying the skills they learned in therapy to their daily lives, possibly because of the many stressors they routinely faced. They could not afford laptops, electronic tablets or smart phones, but most had a basic cellular phone and a prepaid monthly plan.

“The people I wanted to impact directly didn’t have as much access to computers and the Internet,” Aguilera said. “So I thought about using mobile phones to send text messages to remind them to practice the skills covered in therapy sessions.”

The feedback from patients offers new insight into the human need for regular contact or check-ins for mental health professionals, even if only through automated technology, Aguilera said.

While the text-messaging sessions are designed to last only a certain number of weeks, about 75 percent of the patients requested that they continue receiving the messages. When the program stopped for a week due to technical problems, some really noticed the difference.

“When it stopped, I missed it,” the patient reported. “My life is so crazy, I need a reminder to think about how I feel.”

Adrian Aguilera, a UC Berkeley social welfare professor and clinical psychologist

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Gauteng Online is a failure doomed from the beginning

What where they thinking when the Gauteng department of Education promised to connect all the schools in Gauteng to the Internet within 5 years? This is a rhetorical questions about the stupidity of infrastructure projects of this nature. The government themselves are the most inefficient users of technology and with this project they were meant to install computers and Internet access for all the schools in the richest province in the country. It remind me of my time in the United Arab Emirates. These Arab people had money coming out of their ears but did not know how to use it and relied on foreign workers from South Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe, UK and America to do their thinking for them.

Anyway back to South Africa. If you think about the lack of mathematics and science teachers we have in the country, it’s certainly no surprise that Gauteng Online has been such a dismal failure. While doing research for this article most media mentions and even blog postings date back from 2005. So that means people either forgot about it in the last 2 years or have blatantly ignored this project.

The original amount set aside for this project was R500 million! Now tell wouldn’t that money could not have been better used at the schools. For example to put in telephone lines to the thousands of schools with no telephones, or better yet fix the sanitation and make sure they all have running water.

A few years ago I came across Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He basically says that our physiological needs must be met, before we move onto safety, love, self-esteem and eventually self-actualisation. Now for kids to have Internet access is a need that most likely falls between love and self-esteem because it allows them to communicate with others, as well as express themselves by publishing websites. All I would like to say is that we should put pressure on the national Government to get its priorities in order.

It’s probably safe to say that this project is costing the Gauteng Provincial Government more than R500 million with all the disappointments from the previous companies involved. It’s no surprise they have re-issued the tender once again.

 

Are you being held hostage by your hosting company?

Last week I had a small crises when my hosting company disabled this website and several others due to a PHP error on the server. I had been travelling and missed several emails they sent me warning me to take action and resolve this problem, which on the shared hosting platform was causing problems for everyone else. This whole episode reminded me of a lesson I learnt from Tony Roocroft about 3 years ago.

The basic lesson was never to host your website with the same company who controls your domain. I took it very seriously and always started using Godaddy for registering all my .com domains while in South Africa I registered my co.za domains directly with Uniforum. However, I have realised even hosting all my domains with one company is still a weakness because all websites are impacted being hosted under one account. So I’ve moved my personal blog to PowWeb. I may move some more domains to them to share my risk. And I advice you to consider this situation if you are heavily investing in your online business. There are many different hosting providers. There are several comparison websites available like Top 10 Independent Website Reviews website. And if you insist on hosting in South Africa one of the best ones are Hertzner and Afrihost. Avoid MWEB and Telkom Internet as these hosting solutions are either very expensive or severely limited.

 

WWW2007 – Keynote – Dr Chris Kotze FNB Online Banking in South Africa

Dr Chris Kotze, CEO of FNB Online, opened the 2nd day of the World Wide Web Applications Conference.

He described online banking as the baby of the channels, mobile banking an even younger. More than 150, 000 “banking” users daily. 12-15K new users every month. 35 million transactions monthly. So the Internet is moving R90 billion per month. 150,000 new products sales per annum. Almost 1 million visits www.fnb.co.za per week. When Internet banking falls over, the rest of the bank cannot cope.

Number of positive drivers of online banking usage is starting to outweigh the negatives. For corporates the #1 most important feature is security, followed by availability and performance. Rural areas have more bandwidth constraints than metropolitan areas.

The Internet starting to take a bigger percentage of the channel mix. By 2025 online banking could account for 80% of transactions. Corporates already at higher level. There is expectation by 2025 about 75% of service will be available online.

The Impact on First National Bank (FNB):

  • Has to become a global 24/7/365 business
  • Very demanding self-service clients
  • Lower-cost channel options
  • Legacy systems, security and data issues
  • Fraud challenges (phishing)
  • 3rd party dependencies and joint-ventures
  • New competitors
  • “Different” workforce and competencies

Chris ended off with a quote from Charles Schwab on how the Internet has changed it’s business. And for Charles Schwab it has not changed business but enhanced it. For FNB it has changed their business fundamentally. In the Q&A a question was asked about mobile banking users. Turns out FNB has more than 500,000 mobile baking users. There’s a big overlap between them and the online banking users i.e. they tend to be the same people or as Chris Kotze said they co-exist. So there is still a long way to go in getting the unbanked into the banking system.
For more on Chris Kotze read this interview on Personal Finance website.

 

Self regulation by knowing who's editing Wikipedia

Virgil Griffits creator of Wiki ScannerLast Friday I was interviewed on the Midday Report with Chris Gibbons. This is a very fast paced show which addresses everything from business to politics and what lies in between. The topic was who’s editing Wikipedia which has been driving up a storm of online commentary. A Caltech graduate Virgin Griffith has developed an application Wikipedia scanner, which identifies the anonymous edits on Wikipedia pages.

Most of the articles on Wikipedia, which now has almost 2 million English language articles, are written by registered users. Yours truly included. It’s the old Pareto principle where 20% of the people produce 80% of the output. They way Wikipedia works is that even anonymous users can edit any page. That’s the classic definition of a Wiki. And so what Wikipedia does is record your IP address. There are databases on the Internet which record the distribution of IP address to large organisations, countries and ISPs. You can simply use the WHOIS function on such domain name lookup or IP address lookup databases.

As a standard practise Wikipedia records a history of edits. This becomes very useful when abuse takes place on a particular article and Wikipedia editors can roll back very within minutes of detecting the changes. Wikipedia also has a very detailed FAQ which explains it’s rules and regulations in detail. Now when you find that an article is biased in a particular direction this violates the Neutral Point of View clause.

So when you find large organisations like Diebold, Church of Scientology and the Catholic Church, removing negative comments on their entries it’s no surprise. The beauty of the Wikipedia scanner is that it reinforces the self-regulation that has made Wikipedia such a big hit. In the bigger context it’s a hark back to the Cluetrain Manifesto where conversations become smarter, the larger the network of participants.

I have for a long time been an advocate of more contribution to Wikipedia from African countries. This is one of the best ways to make our voices heard. So I encourage you to sign up as a registered user on Wikipedia and start editing and contributing more content in your language of choice.

 

The lack of Email Netiquette as the Internet grows in South Africa

My mentor Arthur Goldstuck has just released his latest statics on Internet growth in South Africa. According to his annual study growth has slowed down to 3% per annum and by the end of 2007 we will have ONLY 3.85 million South Africans online. This is including the explosion of access since broadband became available a few years ago.

Anyway as more new people are gaining access to the Internet they are breaking most of the guidelines of good email netiquette. In the early days of the Web around 1994-1998 there were many people who policed the Internet and enforced good netiquette. Netiquette is simply a set of guidelines that was originally published in RFC 1855. The problem we are finding ourselves in is that no company – as far as I am aware – provides their staff with some basic training around online etiquette. The simply result here is that you will find half of your emails could be jokes with sometimes excessively large attachments sent to you by friends or acquaintances who have added you to a jokes list without asking your permission. This is one of the ways that we are increasingly creating more information pollution.

Here are a few reasons why companies should change their attitudes about basic online literacy training:

  1. reducing internal and external bandwidth costs
  2. lowering support costs from the IT department (internal or external)
  3. increasing productivity by employees

I look forward to your comments with the stories of your bad email netiquette experiences.