Technology

Web searching gets personal for Israeli teen

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In an attempt to organize the Web experience on a whole new level, 19-year-old Daniel Gross and his $4.7 million budding company have created a personalized search toolbar to index and sort through all of the user’s online data.

“More and more people in the world are approaching this point where a lot of information you have is online on a bunch of different websites,” Gross said, reminiscent for the times when computer users could just press “Control+F” and find necessary information on their computer hard drives. “What hit me hard was events,” he added, frustrated that a whole host of places, like Evite, Facebook and Gmail, could all contain different appointments and social gatherings.

The result – a free tool called “Greplin,” which allows subscribers to add as many websites as desired to their accounts so that the program can search through all the data in one place. If a user knows he or she had scheduled a meeting at a local coffee shop, for example, but can neither remember the time of the meeting nor where that information was stored, Greplin’s goal is to provide a quick answer.

Greplin – whose name comes from a combination of the words “grep,” a programming term used in search utilities, and “zeppelin,” the online “cloud,” or network – currently has around $700,00 worth of angel investments and about $4 million in series A (first round) finances.

“More and more of the information we have and consume is not sitting on our hard-dive – it’s on some other service,” Gross said. “Why can’t I have this box and type text into it and get results about items that I own on the Internet?” “If you think of Google, it’s a great way to search the public Internet – we’re primarily building a ‘Google’ but for your things,” he added.

Gross, who for the last 15 months has been living in San Francisco, was born and raised in Jerusalem, after his parents made aliya from America. After finishing high school in Israel, he successfully applied for a grant from Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed funder for start-ups.

“Y Combinator is boot camp for start-ups,” Gross said, explaining that participants are generally awarded investments between $12,000 and $20,000. “The goal is for you to take that money and go through this three-month program where they give you basic building blocks on how to be a good company.”

The idea that Gross originally used in his grant application was not Greplin, however, but a website like eBay with a social networking structure so that buyers and sellers could see what their friends’ consumer patterns were. This concept then evolved into yet another idea, which in turn ended up not working at the last minute, toward the end of the grant period. So Gross said he needed to quickly think of something else to impress the judges – representatives from various investment groups that were coming to learn about that season’s Y Combinator projects.

“I essentially built a basic form of Greplin in the last 48 hours,” Gross said, and this basic model had surprising success with the investors who attended the March 2010 event.

Deciding he wanted to expand upon the idea, Gross said he joined up six months ago with company co-founder Robby Walker, an intellectual phenomenon who began college at nine years old and had a PhD by age 20, who at the time was working at Google and had done Y Combinator in the past.

“People like him have this desire to build things,” Gross said. “They love building products.”

Greplin launched an initial public version of the website in November, but because “a lot of people tried to use it,” the site “crashed” and had to be restructured, Gross said. Since then, he explained, the site has been “re-launched a million times before it worked,” but now is working properly.

The company’s most recent developments include a $4 million investment fromSequoia Capital that closed in December and went public in February, along with the hiring of three new employees.

“Greplin has the potential to be a killer app,” said Dr.

Andre Oboler, social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“What it adds is the convenience of everything in one place, while at the same time asserting its independence.

With the larger players already having so much information on each of us, the last thing we need is for them to be aggregating our data.

Greplin lets the user enjoy the benefits of aggregation without the need for crosssharing between platforms. I have no doubt that Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other sites will soon start competing for this space, but personally, I’d much rather trust Greplin.

“Greplin is carving an important niche for itself in a market where there is decreasing trust in the major players.

As an independent aggregation of personal information, Greplin has the potential to put the customer first, and that may prove to be a major commercial advantage.”

Greplin never actually gets to see users’ passwords on their various online accounts being searched, because similar to what occurs in Facebook “app” usage, the subscriber grants Greplin access through each individual site – upon adding Facebook to the index, for example, a Facebook page will pop up asking the user if he or she wants to grant access to Greplin, according to Gross. The same occurs on websites like Gmail, Dropbox, Microsoft Exchange and Twitter, and the technical term for such a process is called “OAuth,” which standards for Open Authorization.

“We have never stored a single password,” Gross said.

While basic usage is free, Greplin is now beginning to charge ($5 and $15 monthly plans) for storing more data and adding certain “premium” sites to user indexes, those that required “quite a bit of computational force” on the part of the Greplin staff, Gross explained. One such site would be Salesforce, which offers businesses massive customer relationship management tools, according to Gross.

“Is it something that business users will have a tendency to use? Is it very expensive for us to index?” Gross said were some the questions that go into deciding if a site should be considered “premium.”

Asked whether the public should be expecting anything new from Greplin in the near future, he responded, “We don’t have any solid product launches coming up in the next few days but we will soon.”

Gross’s interest and skills in computer science stem back to his childhood.

“I was sort of always interested in this as a kid and my father is a computer science teacher in Israel,” Gross said.

“I was always curious and I had the tools to learn.”

Attending university to accrue even more such tools is “on the list of things I have to do,” Gross added, noting that “there seems something to be gained by having education in the arts that I don’t have” – so he plans to apply to college, though not tomorrow.

“My parents are Jewish, so I think I have to,” he said, laughing.

Gross wouldn’t comment on how he is dealing with his requirement to serve in the IDF. He has no immediate plans to return to Israel but he said that he had initially expected to come back right away and still remains surprised that he didn’t.

“I constantly thought to myself I’d be back a month later and then three months later,” Gross said. “But once we actually took funding, I realized I couldn’t just back out. I have other people’s money invested in the success of my company.”

When asked to give a statement about Gross’s case and his obligation to enlist, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said he “did not show up for induction and is currently out of the country. Upon his return to Israel, he’ll be handled by the relevant authorities.”

By Sharon Udasin

http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.aspx?id=214099

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New Commentary in Search Engine Land on Google Street View

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Matt McGee, Israel: Google Street View Will Be “Good For Tourism & Image”, Search Engine Land, Mar 6, 2011

If all goes according to plan, Google’s Street View service should be driving through select cities in Israel soon and the photos could be online later this year.

It’ll be Street View’s first move into the Middle East but, despite the obvious security concerns, the Israeli government says the service will be good for tourism and appears to be ready to let it launch with what one interested observer calls a “minimalist approach” to security issues.

About two weeks ago, a committee led by Israel Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor announced plans to cooperate with Google to bring Street View to Israel. The committee announcement says Israel’s experts will “work to protect vital public interests” in its talks with Google.

But Dr. Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia and editor of ZionismOnTheWeb.org, tells Search Engine Land that Israel’s approach to Street View security may be no more strict than any other country.

“When I spoke with the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem,” Oboler says, “they said they were looking forward to working with Google Street View and that ‘It will be good for tourism and for Israel’s image’. When I asked about restrictions, I was told security installations would be off limits, personal privacy would be respected, and ‘everything else is fine’. This is a minimalist approach, no different from Europe, which is surprising given Israel’s very real security concerns.”

Security Concerns Over Street View In Israel

Not everyone agrees with the idea of a minimalist approach to Street View restrictions in Israel. Mordechai Kedar, a retired Lt. Col. who served 25 years in Israeli intelligence told the AP that Street View could help terrorists find new targets. “We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities,” Kedar said.

In fact, Palestinian militants have already admitted that they use Google Earth when planning rocket strikes in Israel. In 2007, Google said it was looking into accusations that anti-Israel propaganda had been added as an imagery layer by Google Earth users. There’s even a US law that prevents the sale of satellite images of Israel at very high/specific resolutions.

History would seem to suggest that Israel should be hesitant about Street View. But Oboler says the government is “ready to engage” despite the possibility that some Street View images may cause embarrassment or worse.

“Links to pictures of Palestinians being searched at security check points will no doubt flood the internet,” he says. “The various protests that cause clashes with police will no doubt be caught by the Street View car, even if protesters need to be there continually for months to ensure it happens. Street View will, of course, see the security measures Israeli’s themselves go through on a result basis, such as a full airport-like security check, complete with an X-ray on bags, just to enter a shopping center or bus station. It will see the fallen rockets and holes ripped into trees, walls, and concrete missile shelters in Sderot. Ultimately, with everything captured by the Street View car, it will be a matter of what people search for, and which images go viral through social media. With hostile governments, terrorist organizations, and NGOs that have become partisan to the conflict in an anti-Israel manner, all scouring the Street View images for material to attack Israel, there will be political fall out.”

In a recent blog post for the Jerusalem Post about the pros and cons of Street View, Oboler suggested that Google be required to store its Street View data in Israel in order to ensure that the government can hold Google accountable to whatever terms the two sides agree on. But as others have pointed out, Google’s infrastructure is based on the use of thousands of redundant servers around the world and its products likely wouldn’t work if they were limited to hosting in a single country. Oboler recognizes that such a requirement would “force a significant change to Google’s approach to Street View’s implementation.”

Google Remains Quiet

Google’s cars have not yet driven in Israel and the company is staying quiet about its timetable for launching Street View in Israel. A Google spokesperson shared with us the same statement that it’s given other reporters recently:

Street View is a popular feature of Google Maps which is already available in 27 countries. We aim to offer the benefits of street-level imagery to users all around the world, however, we have nothing specific to announce at this time.

Despite the Israeli government’s apparent enthusiasm for the service, there are reports that Google would move slowly in Israel, potentially only driving three cities: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Such limitations in where Street View goes might mitigate some of the potentially troubling images that Oboler mentioned above – missile shelters in Sderot, for example.

For now, Google and the Israeli government are talking through the steps necessary to launch Street View in Israel. The government’s statement indicated a desire that Google “operate the service in Israel as soon as possible.” Perhaps more so than in any other country to date, people will be watching Israel closely when it happens.

(flag image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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Commentary Magazine: Israel Moves to Limit Google Street View Risks

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Source: Omri Ceren, Israel Moves to Limit Google Street View Risks, Commentary Magazine, 27/2/2011

My friend Dr. Andre Oboler has an exhaustive article up on the Jerusalem Post site about the potential risks and benefits of Google Street View coming to Israel. The service, as most people know, allows you to take “virtual tours” up and down streets mapped by Google Maps (and Google Maps itself goes way beyond public streets, into zoos, amusement parks, and so on).

The problem, of course, is that terrorists and militias use services like Google Maps and Google Earth to maximize their carnage. The Mumbai terrorists very famously mapped out their attacks beforehand using Google services. Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. And the Iranian proxies surrounding Israel have been bragging for years that they use Google Earth to set rocket targets.

On the other hand, it’s a losing battle to fight the spread of information, especially when Google gets involved. The deep controversy is about the advance of technology outpacing our legal and ethical coping mechanisms, but that’s not really important for this context. Suffice to say that new communication technologies are being developed and deployed almost recklessly, and certainly in the absence of mass public deliberation. India expressed concerns about Google Maps and Google Earth as early as 2005, those concerns were largely ignored, and then Mumbai happened. Israel is afraid that something similar will occur.

But the Jewish state is small enough that at least some checks can potentially be enacted, and Israeli security services are calling for exactly that. Oboler suggests several obvious measures:

Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement. … Israel also has a responsibility to act in the Interests of its people and of the Jewish people more generally. … Israel may also request further unrelated guarantees from Google, such as an undertaking to cooperate more fully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Antisemitism.

This is a conversation that should be happening in the United States as well. Google and similar companies make billions by quite literally entering and mapping public spaces and then selling ads related to what they organize. They don’t really owe anyone anything if they’re only helping convey information, but new technologies do introduce new risks, and inevitably Google Maps will be exploited for a domestic terrorist attacks. It’s something that should be talked about more, and more explicitly and more publicly.

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Discover Magazine: Google Street View Runs Into Controversies

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Source: Patrick Morgan, Google Street View Runs Into Controversies in Switzerland and Israel, Discover Magazine, February 24th, 2011

Last year, Google raised the ire of many when it confessed that its city-mapping Street View vehicles unintentionally gathered unencrypted Wi-Fi data as they rolled past people’s abodes. To fix its image and to fend off lawsuits, the company soon tightened its privacy policies and ensured that its Street View cars stopped collecting that information. But the controversies just won’t stop. Google is now trying to convince privacy-conscious Swiss officials to drop the country’s tight Street View restrictions, while security-conscious Israeli officials are concerned that the technology will help terrorists.

Twenty-seven countries have been partially mapped via Street View, a Google product that provides 360-degree panoramic views from ground level. The company creates these images by sending groups of camera-studded vehicles to various parts of the world to snap pictures as they drive.

Although Switzerland is home to one of Google’s largest offices outside the United States, the country has strict privacy laws that have prevented Google from loading new Street View images of Switzerland for the past year. On Thursday, Google petitioned a Swiss court to lift this ban. The search engine company told Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court that its technology automatically conceals the identity of faces and license plates, and that it is no different from rival services.

But Hanspeter Thuer, Switzerland’s data protection commissioner, doesn’t believe Google: He showed several examples of images in which the people were readily identifiable.

“I don’t want a ban of Google Street View,” Thuer told the court. “But in the present form Google Street View breaches basic principles of privacy.” … Thuer wants Google to guarantee that all faces and car plates are blurred — if necessary by checking all pictures manually. He also demanded that private gardens and sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and women’s shelters be obscured. Google lawyers countered that the company is continually improving its Street View technology and that the images are too banal, and of too poor quality, to be used to identify individuals whose privacy might be breached. [AP]

While the Swiss court is still thinking the matter over, Google is still taking pictures. The company wants to add the ski slopes around Switzerland’s Matterhorn mountain in its Street View maps, and recently sent out a camera-equipped snowmobile.

Street View’s constant expansion is also set to include Israel, where some government officials hope the online maps will promote tourism. However, other officials worry that the photographs of streets and buildings would aid Palestinian militants, who have already used Google Earth to identify rocket targets.

“We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities,” retired Lt. Col. Mordechai Kedar told the Associated Press. The 25-year veteran of Israeli intelligence said that Street View could facilitate terrorist attacks. [Los Angeles Times]

On Monday the Israeli Cabinet discussed the issues surrounding Street View, and ultimately decided to start working with Google on how the service could be safely introduced to the country. Experts say it’s likely that Street View will be prohibited from posting photographs of particularly sensitive locations, like government offices and power stations. And some Israelis think the Israeli government shouldn’t make the decision for the entire country, and argue that communities should be given a choice on whether to use Street View.

Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, wrote in a blog post on the Jerusalem Post website that Street View could boost tourism in public places of historical, cultural and religious interest…. “Gated communities, kibbutzim and villages for new immigrants in particular should have a right to keep out the Street View car, or to invite it in. The default should be exclusion until the local community give permission,” Oboler wrote. [Los Angeles Times]

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PuntoInformatico: Israel, is Street View security-conscious?

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Source: Raffaella Gargiulo, Israele, Street View attenta alla sicurezza?, PuntoInformatico, 23 Feb 2011 (in Italian, below)

A government task force is debating whether to allow Google to introduce it’s street view photo-mapping application in Israel. The availability of this data could assist in the planning of terrorist attacks.

Rome – The mapping service Google is often the subject of controversy . This time, however, the concerns and accusations against the famous Street View service did not come only because of the potential invasion of privacy but also due to security concerns: detailed pictures of Street View could provide information to any would-be bombers.

Google wants to implement street view in 28 countries, included in Israel. A special government task force met this week to discuss whether the the Google Car that captures the pictures would be allow to beging work in Israel.

Many cabinet members are worried that such information and data collected by Google may be used by extremists for terrorist purposes. The committee was assembled to assess the possible risks the service could present to the country. The committee should report back within a few weeks.

The choices before the government are complex . On the one hand, there is the issue of opening up technological innovation and promotion of Israeli cities as a tourist attraction. The application could draw the attention of the world to the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa and the wonderful landscape of historic streets in Jerusalem; on the other hand, there is the issue of public safety.

It’s likely that even if Israeli cities were put into Street View, there would be restrictions on strategic and military points of interest, with details obscured. Pictures would not be permitted of high profile targets such as army bases, the residence of the President, power stations or embassies.

Some statements to this effect have already been released by members of the Israeli committee, led by Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor. The committee has affirmed its intention to find “as soon as possible”, the safest ways to introduced this service so that the implementation of the Google service can be consistent with the national security needs of Israel.

A spokesman for Mountain View, meanwhile, said that Google’s goal is simply to “bring the benefits of street-level imagery for users around the world.”

The question of security has been discussed in the Associated Press by Lt. Col. Mordechai Kedar, a veteran who worked for the Israeli intelligence services for 25 years. He recalled how Israel in the past had the same security fears and concerns related to terrorist activity with Google Earth. “We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities”. He said that Street View could facilitate terrorist attacks.

Still, Andre Oboler, from the Zionist Federation of Australia, told The Jerusalem Post that Street View could boost tourism in public places of historical, cultural and religious interest, but warned also of the risks to public safety and privacy. “Gated communities, kibbutzim and villages for new immigrants, in particular, should have the right to be out of Street View mapping at least until the local community gives their permission,” he said. Oboler also suggested Israel “negotiate with Google on some key issues such as ensuring that the data collected from Street View remains on computer servers in Isreal rather than the United States, and that Google does more in the fight against antisemitism. ”

Israele, Street View attenta alla sicurezza?

Source: Raffaella Gargiulo, Israele, Street View attenta alla sicurezza?, PuntoInformatico, 23 Feb 2011

Una task force governativa per discutere se dare o meno il consenso a includere la mappatura fotografica di Israele. Tali dati potrebbero agevolare la pianificazione di attentati terroristici

Roma – Il servizio di mappatura di Google è spesso al centro di polemiche. Questa volta però le preoccupazioni e le accuse al noto servizio Street View non arrivano soltanto per via della potenziale violazione della privacy ma soprattutto per problemi di sicurezza: le immagini dettagliate di Street View potrebbero offrire informazioni ad eventuali aspiranti attentatori.

Google vorrebbe raggiungere quota 28 paesi coperti da Street View e includere nelle sue mappe anche Israele. Per tale ragione in settimana una speciale task force governativa si è riunita per discutere sulla questione del dare o meno l’approvazione alle Google Car di immortalare le strade del paese mediorientale.

Molti i membri del gabinetto allarmati del fatto che tali informazioni e dati raccolti da Google possano essere utilizzate da alcuni estremisti per scopi terroristici. La commissione è stata chiamata e riunita per valutare i possibili rischi che tale servizio potrebbe arrecare al paese. Entro poche settimane la commissione dovrebbe dare il suo responso.
La scelta del governo appare complessa. Da un lato, vi è la questione dell’apertura tecnologica e della promozione delle città israeliane a livello turistico per portare a conoscenza di tutto il mondo le strade lussuose di Tel Aviv, il meraviglioso paesaggio di Haifa e le vie piene di storia di Gerusalemme, dall’altro la questione della pubblica sicurezza.

Il dibattito, dati gli interessi in gioco, è ancora aperto. Probabilmente, nel caso in cui le città israeliane dovessero finire su Street View, si opterà per inserire delle ampie restrizioni relativamente a luoghi di interesse strategico e militare, dunque tentando di offuscare dettagli e immagini di aree pericolose, come ad esempio, le basi dell’esercito, luoghi nei quali si svolgono funzioni di difesa territoriale, o ancora i luoghi di residenza del Presidente, centrali elettriche e ambasciate etc.

Proprio a tal proposito, sono state rilasciate alcune dichiarazioni da parte dei membri del gabinetto israeliano, guidati dal Ministro dell’Intelligence Dan Meridor, nelle quali si è ribadito di voler trovare dei metodi più sicuri una volta introdotto tale servizio nei prossimi mesi. Dunque, sposare l’implementazione del servizio di Google con la necessità di sicurezza nazionale di Israele “il prima possibile”.

Un portavoce di Mountain View, intanto, ha dichiarato che l’obiettivo di Google è semplicemente quello di “offrire i benefici di immagini a livello stradale per gli utenti di tutto il mondo”.

Sulla questione è intervenuto con le sue dichiarazioni ad Associated Press il colonello Mordechai Kedatr, un veterano che ha lavorato per l’intelligence israeliana per 25 anni, che ha ricordato come Israele in passato aveva avuto i medesimi timori legati alla sicurezza e alle preoccupazioni per eventuali attacchi terroristici con Google Earth. “Abbiamo già problemi con Google Earth – ha dichiarato – che visualizza immagini satellitari di case ed edifici”, concludendo che “con Street View si potrebbero solo facilitare gli attacchi terroristici”

Ancora, Andre Oboler, della Zionist Federation of Australia, ha spiegato sul Jerusalem Post che Street View potrebbe incentivare il turismo nei luoghi pubblici di interesse storico, culturale e religioso ma ha messo in guardia rispetto ai rischi per la sicurezza pubblica e per la vita privata dei cittadini. “Comunità chiuse, kibbutz e villaggi per i nuovi immigrati, in particolare, dovrebbero avere il diritto di essere fuori dalla mappatura di Street View almeno fino a quando la comunità locale non darà loro il permesso” ha continuato il direttore. Oboler ha inoltre suggerito ad Israele di “negoziare con il colosso del web su alcuni punti chiave quali ad esempio l’assicurazione che i dati raccolti da Street View rimangano su server in Isreale e non negli Stati Uniti e l’arruolamento di Google nella lotta contro l’antisemitismo”.

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Dr Oboler’s analysis in the LA Times

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Source: Jessica Guynn, Some in Israel warn against Google Street View, Los Angeles Time, February 22, 2011

The government decides to work with Google to bring Street View to Israel in the coming months, but some cabinet members worry that the street-level photographs will help terrorists plan attacks.

Reporting from San Francisco —

Google’s popular Street View map service has sparked privacy debates around the globe.

But in Israel, government officials are worried that the service could endanger public figures by giving terrorists detailed information that could be used in carrying out attacks.

Israel said Monday that it was weighing whether to allow Google to photograph Israeli cities to promote tourist sites despite risks to privacy and safety. Street View allows users to virtually tour locations in 27 countries. Google collects three-dimensional images for the service by dispatching a fleet of camera-equipped vehicles to the locations.

Israeli Cabinet members, led by Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, have told experts to find a safe way to introduce the feature “as soon as possible,” according to an official statement. Cabinet members discussed the security and privacy implications of Google Street View on Monday and decided to work with Google in launching the service in the coming months, according to a statement.

Google said it had no specific time frame for launching Street View in Israel. In an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson said: “We aim to offer the benefits of street-level imagery to users all around the world, however, we have nothing specific to announce at this time.”

But some in Israel are sounding the alarm.

“We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities,” retired Lt. Col. Mordechai Kedar told the Associated Press. The 25-year veteran of Israeli intelligence said that Street View could facilitate terrorist attacks.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have said they use Google Earth, which displays satellite images of homes and buildings, to identify targets for rocket attacks.

The privacy watchdog group Center for Digital Democracy warned of another potential downside for Israeli citizens: It could be used for political purposes, including government surveillance.

“It will be the Israeli security forces, in addition to users, that will be viewing the system to identify potential threats and those suspected of potential anti-governmental actions,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the group. “The melding of governmental and commercial interests to enhance citizen eavesdropping is a chilling prospect.”

Israel has long tried to strike a balance between the innovation in its booming high-tech sector and the risk of terrorism. Chester pointed to Google’s acquisition of Quiksee, an Israeli company that allows users to upload videos of places to Google Maps.

Google Street View has encountered intense scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators in a number of countries and in the United States, where there are concerns that Street View invades personal privacy. Google further raised privacy anxieties last year when it admitted that its vehicles inadvertently collected unencrypted data from Wi-Fi networks, setting off an intense firestorm of criticism. Google has stopped collecting Wi-Fi data for location-based services.

Google declined to say Monday which Israeli cities it might send Street View vehicles to, but it is said to be interested in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and possibly Haifa.

Even if Israel permits Google to move forward, it will probably prohibit sensitive areas from being photographed. That could include the streets where the prime minister and the president live, government compounds, security installations, power stations, foreign embassies and other high-security locations.

Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, wrote in a blog post on the Jerusalem Post website that Street View could boost tourism in public places of historical, cultural and religious interest. But he warned against “blanket permission” because of risks to public safety and personal privacy.

“Gated communities, kibbutzim and villages for new immigrants in particular should have a right to keep out the Street View car, or to invite it in. The default should be exclusion until the local community give permission,” Oboler wrote.

He also suggested that Israel negotiate with Google on key points, such as housing the Street View data collected on servers in Israel, not the United States, and enlisting Google’s help in combating anti-Semitism.

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InformationWeek with Dr Oboler’s analysis on Google Street View

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Source: Alison Diana, Google Street View Entering Israel, Despite Security Concerns, InformationWeek, February 22, 2011

Some fear that terrorists could use information in the mapping service to carry out attacks, while others believe it could enhance the nation’s tourism industry.

Google has long-battled concerns that its Street View offering infringes on individual privacy, but the mapping service’s expansion into Israel is sparking concerns that terrorists could use the detailed information to carry out attacks, endangering the public and government officials.

On Monday, a government team chaired by minister Dan Meridor heard testimony from experts who discussed the implications of privacy concerns and public security, tourism, and country image, according to a government release. After directing these experts to continue working to “protect vital public interests regarding this innovative project,” Israel’s government decided to continue cooperating with Google in order to operate the Street View service within the nation “as soon as possible,” the government said.

The country hopes Street View can help promote the country’s tourism industry by showcasing attractions.


“Street View could be very useful in public spaces, parks, museums, hotels, and places of historical, cultural, and religious interest. It could significantly help tourism. A Street View of the old city in particular could prove very popular,” wrote Andre Oboler, director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, wrote in a blog in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Not all regions should appear, cautioned some government officials. In particular, Israel is concerned about photographing sensitive locations, such as areas near the homes of the president and prime minister, retired lieutenant colonel Mordechai Kedar told the Associated Press.

“We already have problems with Google Earth, which exposes all kinds of facilities,” said Kedar, who spent 25 years with Israeli intelligence, noting that Street View could facilitate terrorist attacks within the nation.

Like some counterparts in Europe and the United States, individual Israelis also may be concerned. Israel has privacy laws in place, and Google must comply, Yoram Hacohen, an attorney who heads the Israeli law, information, and technology authority at Israel’s Justice Ministry, told iBlogAuto.

“The law mandates that the public be informed by anyone collecting information for a database. If it wants to operate the service, it must advertise in newspapers that it plans to photograph particular areas. Anyone who doesn’t want to be photographed must approach Google ahead of time and ask not to be,” he said. “It’s clear that the public must be informed about these activities. If someone discovers himself on Street View and wants to have the image removed, there is a way to do this in the system. A person can erase himself. We will ask that the erasure and application processes be in Hebrew and not English.”

To collect data for Street View, Google sends out specially equipped cars to film all streets and buildings. In the process, the autos sometimes capture individuals, and the cars’ equipment also has grabbed users’ unencrypted wireless network data. Currently, Google offers the three-dimensional tour service in 27 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and France.

Google does not have a specific launch date in mind for an Israeli service, according to published reports. The company on Monday declined to reveal which cities it would like to dispatch Street View vehicles to first, but it is said to be interested in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and possibly Haifa, said the Zionist Federation’s Oboler.

“We aim to offer the benefits of street-level imagery to users all around the world, however, we have nothing specific to announce at this time,” Google told the AP.

Although the government debate may mark Google Street View’s first formal entry into Israel, the developer is not new to the country. In September 2010 it acquired Quiksee — also known as MentorWave Technologies — for an estimated $10 million, and in April 2010 it bought LabPixies for about $25 million. Quiksee develops 3D tour software that lets users add to a Google map, creating an image similar to that shown in Street View. For its part, LabPixies writes widgets for iGoogle, Android, and the iPhone.


But Street View’s rollout may not go as smoothly, if the technology’s history is any indicator.

Governments in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain, as well as states such as Connecticut have raised varying levels of concern with Google. In December, Google refused to turn over to the Connecticut attorney general data its street-mapping vehicles gathered from personal and business wireless networks throughout the state.

“I am disappointed by Google’s failure to comply with my information demands,” Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal told InformationWeek. “We will review any information we receive and consider whether additional enforcement steps — including possible legal action — are warranted.”

Across the pond, British government officials got a commitment from Google to improve the way in which it handles data, the U.K. information commissioner said in November, after months of inquiry. The agreement committed Google to improving training related to security awareness and data handling for all employees. To address Germany’s privacy rules, Google complied with that nation’s request to manually blur peoples’ houses on-demand, rather than relying on automated tools.

Other countries’ problems with Street View should give Israel pause, warned some privacy advocates.

“What data could be collected in Israel, and how might this harm Israel? Both public diplomacy and security considerations need to be considered. How might this data be used against Israel’s interests, particularly if it is stored in the U.S. and subject to U.S. government control rather than Israeli control? Keeping the data solely in Israel would be a significant development,” wrote Oboler. “Whatever issues the task force considers, they will not be an exhaustive list of the impact Street View could have on the lives of Israelis.

“Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement.”

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In Israel Google Street View needs serious thought

Categories: CIE in the News, Technology: Tags: , , ,

Source: Andre Oboler, In Israel Google Street View needs serious thought, Jerusalem Post Blogs, Feb 20, 2011

Google would like to launch Street View in Israel. The web based application adds an extra level of depth to Google Maps. People can zoom in and see what the street actually looks like to passersby. Google uses roving vehicles that drive down the street taking millions of digital photographs to collect the necessary data. Street view pieces these together along with controls that allow users to step down the street, or turn their view to different angles. Want the red house with the blue door? Google street view has it covered.

Street view also comes with draw backs in the areas of privacy and security. Cars, people, and security measures are all captured. Street view is like having a team of surveillance personal who can immediately send you photographs of any location. The real difference is that they pull these photographs from their archive rather than taking them live. Another difference is that under pressure from privacy regulators, Google added technology to blur faces, license plates and other details identifying people and companies who have been photographed.

Photography has posed problems for Israel before. Three years ago I wrote “Let’s not give away all out secrets on the web.” The issue then was Facebook use by IDF soldiers who were taking pictures on base and in the field. These photographs had the potential to compromise security, but I urged the IDF not to go overboard. Instead, I suggested the flow of information could be managed using existing structures. That approach is not available here as Google itself takes the images.

Street view could be very useful in public spaces, parks, museums, hotels and places of historical, cultural, and religious interest. It could significantly help tourism. A street view of the old city in particular could prove very popular. However, concerns about security in a small number of places, and about privacy in a far larger set of localities, suggest blanket permission would be unwise. Given its connection to Google maps, an edge to edge coverage is not needed. Google could easily provide street view only in front of designated locations of interest where permission has been specifically granted and if needed, where a risk assessment has already taken place.

Israel has specific needs, but the wider international concerns with street view should also be considered. These start with the ability of people to be easily removed. The original requirements were bordering on the comical, but they have improved. We still need to ask if they have improved enough, and whether Google can promise swift compliance with removal requests.

Gated communities, kibbutzim, and villages for new immigrants in particular should have a right to keep out the street view car, or to invite it in. The default should be exclusion until the local community give permission. This need is not unique to Israel, but it may have special implications. In the UK village of Broughton an angry crowd surrounded the street view car preventing its work. A spate of burglaries had residents concerned that appearing on Google Street View could attract further problem. (The article about this incident in The Sunday Times may of course have led to the same result, unless you assume thieves don’t read The Sunday Times).

Google street view cars have also been found collecting and storing data from open wireless networks in addition to taking pictures. This data was not just related to the location of open (non password protected) wireless networks, but also included payload data. In Ireland Google was forced to delete this data. What data could be collected in Israel, and how might this harm Israel? Both public diplomacy and security considerations need to be considered. How might this data be used against Israel’s interests, particularly if it is stored in the US and subject to US government control rather than Israeli control? Keeping the data solely in Israel would be a significant development.

The basic disconnect between our assumption of privacy and the concept of street view should also be considered. Segments of the online world have found the irony of stalking the Google Street View car irresistible. Bonus points apply if you can catch Google breaking the law. Of courseGoogle will also catch you catching Google breaking the law. Beneath the fun and games, discussion in the tech savvy online community are ripe with concerns about street view, Google’s potential use of the data, and the wider implications of online monitoring that is publically available. These ideas also need consideration, though culturally Israelis may be less concerned about privacy and surveillance, provided it is for a good cause and not simply a company’s profits. Street view may also have positive benefits for Israel’s security services (at the expense of civil liberties), the balance in Israel may be different to elsewhere in the world.

Privacy officials in Israel as well as Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom have already raised concerns about Google Street View and Google Buzz. They have criticized the roll out of technology before full consideration and protections have been put in place for the public. Yoram Hacohen, head of the Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority signed the letter on behalf of Israel. When the new task force, headed by Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor meets, they may want to consultation with Mr Hacohen and see what role his authority could play in any future arrangements and what additional powers they may require. Some regulators overseas already have the ability to impose significant fines for privacy breaches.

Whatever issues the task force considers, they will not be an exhaustive list of the impact Street View could have on the lives of Israelis. Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement. This may be a good first step.

Israel also has a responsibility to act in the Interests of its people and of the Jewish people more generally. In light of that, Israel may also request further unrelated guarantees from Google, such as an undertaking to cooperate more fully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Antisemitism. The Online Antisemitism Working Group of the Global Forum to Combat Antisemitism, of which I am co-chair, came up with many recommendations for service providers like Google. Now might be the time to open that dialogue with Google directly. Google has been far better than Facebook when it comes to respecting the rights of democratic states, but that doesn’t Israel can’t negotiate and ensure its issues are given a higher priority by the internet giant as part of any new expansion.

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Wikileaks: Assange’s address to Australia

Categories: CIE in the News, Features, Technology: Tags:

Source: Andre Oboler, Wikileaks: Assange’s address to Australia, Jerusalem Post Blog, Feb 6 2011.

At 5:40pm on Friday, Australian time, the BMW Edge at Melbourne’s Federation Square was full. The glass conference room, with a capacity of 700, lies in the heart of the city; geographically as well as culturally. The e-mail I received warned that seats to this free event would go fast. Right on time, twenty minutes after standing room ran out, the event got underway. An overflow crowd of 600 watched on the big screen in the outdoors square. The event was titled, “Wikileaks and free speech.”

There was some serious backing to this event including Liberty Victoria, the grassroots organisation Get Up! and Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. They were joined by Future Leaders, a philanthropic initiative, as well as three major representative bodies: The Law Institute Victoria, the recognised professional association for solicitors, The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the peak union and professional organisation for the media, entertainment, sports and arts industries, and Victorian Trades Hall Council, the peak trade union body in Victoria.

Outside of Israel, such diverse cooperation in the name of democratic principles is rare. This diverse mobilisation of civil society, along with strong public support for Wikileaks, explains how the crowd of 1,100 people was gathered with just 4 days notice. Twitter, Facebook and “old fashioned” e-mail no doubt all played their part.

The opening remarks from Prof. Spencer Zifcak, President of Liberty Victoria, included a tongue-in-cheek welcome to members of the Australian intelligence services who might be in the audience. Mr Assange himself participated through an exclusive, pre-recorded, video address to the gathering.

In his message Mr Assange referred to the basic human decency Australians have shown in their support for each other during the recent floods, and thanked Australians for their support of Wikileaks. He refers to himself as a journalist used to “reporting the news,” later noting his years of membership in the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and how his first book was published fourteen years ago. While refusing to become mainstream if that prevented Wikileaks speaking truth to power, he sought to reframe Wikileaks as a media player that had been active long before the current controversy.

Assange declared the current times a “generational challenge”, drawing comparisons with the US civil rights struggles of the 1950s, the peace struggles of the late 1960’s, and recent environmental struggles. “This is our challenge, and this is our time” he declared. He framed the challenge itself as defence of the idea that “the citizenry has a right to scrutinize the state.” He warned that “individuals, not governments, have a right to privacy,” and that “strong powers must be held to account, while the weak must be protected.” In what is likely to become a cliché, he declared “we believe in transparent power, not in transparent people.”

Stating, “we are a media organisation, I am a publisher and I am a journalist,” Assange argued Wikileaks was nothing less than journalism in the public interest. He gave as examples of this leaks he claimed exposed illegal government actions by both the US and Australia. He called on Australians to insist that attacks on his staff and organisation stop, that he be allowed home, and that the Australian government “come clean” on its interactions with foreign governments in relation to Wikileaks. Julian Assange’s address was met with loud applause from the audience.

Jennifer Robinson, Assange’s UK based lawyer, joined the gathering through a skype video link. She argued there was a free speech and democratic public benefit that resulted from Wikileaks, and supported her argument with reference to the Sydney Peace Foundation’s award of a Gold Medal to Assange earlier that week. This was only the fourth times the foundation had awarded a Gold Medal in the last 14 years. Two of the other receipts were Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Christopher Warren, Federal Secretary of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, framed Wikileak’s difficulties as both a free speech and a freedom of the press issue. He said that information is held by governments on trust for the people, and the people have a right to know. He also told the audience the internet had changed journalism long before Wikileaks. In this new environment, he argued, Wikileaks and journalism generally, was doing no more than it had always done; publishing leaked documents in the public interest. Leaks he argued were as old as journalism itself.

Lizzie O’Shea, a public interest lawyer, drew a comparison with Egypt. She argued that the US attempt to shut down Wikileaks was similar to Egypt’s attempts to shut down the internet itself. She said the hypocrisy of modern statecraft was hard to stomach, and called Wikileaks the Pentagon papers of the twenty first century. She too echoed the cry that defending Wikileaks was defending freedom of the press.

Peter Gordon, a top Melbourne lawyer, argued that Australia’s Prime Minister and Attorney General, both personal friends of his, had departed from their true values when it came to Wikileaks, and needed reminding. Adam Bandt, Australia’s first Green Party member of the House of Representatives, expressed his support and that of his party for Wikileaks, and for online freedom.

Donations to support Julian Assange’s legal costs were solicited at the end. Donations made by card gave an option for residual funds to be returned to the donor or spent on Wikileaks. The flexibility highlighted the broad coalition of support from civil society organisations. The mountain of cash donations, which people gave instead, reflected the public’s unconditional support.

As the event was drawing to a close, the rain came down in a torrent. The Melbourne Art Centre, previously visible across the Yarra river, vanished in a sheet of rain. Out in the square, the Wikileak supporters mingled with those from another cause; a march in support of the Egyptian protestors.

At Federation Square, in the heart of the city, a crowd had gathered, and then dispersed. The rain continued to fall. Roads were closed and emergency services stretched to their limit. On the radio, a caller said a civilian had taken it upon themselves to direct traffic at a busy intersect. He had two complaints, the fist was the equal time being given to the two flows of traffic being controlled, the second that “they’re not even wearing a hi-vis vest!” Australia has much in common with Israel; a public concern for the welfare of strangers, the willingness to lend a hand in a crisis, and a respect for those who get stuck in and do things. Australian culture also demands that a “fair go” be given, and harbours a healthy disrespect for authority. For a diverse range of Australians, Wikileaks ticks all the right boxes.

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Egypt’s Internet Blackout

Categories: CIE in the News, Features, Technology: Tags: ,

Source: Andre Oboler, Egypt’s Internet Blackout, The Cutting Edge, 30 January  2011

The Egyptian Government has become the first in the world to turn off its the internet. As of January 28, almost all internet servers in Egypt are offline. Homes, businesses, foreign embassies, and Egyptian government departments are without internet access. Text messaging services (SMS) have also been turned off.

The move aims to prevent the Egyptian people from protesting, and Egyptian officials have specifically called on people not to congregate in public places after prayers. Renesys notes that the shutdown is reminiscent of efforts in Iran and Tunisia to slow the internet or shut down some main internet connections. The real purpose however is more in line with a “government crackdown on peace, goodwill, and social media.” It aims to discredit, disrupt, and ultimately censor anti-government protest.

The Encyclopedia of Terrorism lists the move to cut communications infrastructure as part of asymmetric warfare. It states, “Guerrilla tactics include ambush, avoiding open battle, cutting communication lines, and generally harassing the enemy.” In this case, the tactic is being used by the state, not the protestors. In cutting communications a state has more options. Egypt’s move is deep; they have effectively put a stop to almost all forms of modern mass communication.

The move was clearly the final stage in a planned shutdown. It started on Tuesday with efforts to block Twitter and Facebook. Twitter responded (in two tweets due to length) saying: “We can confirm that Twitter was blocked in Egypt around 8am PT today. It is impacting both Twitter.com & applications. (1/2)” and “Re Egypt block: We believe that the open exchange of info & views benefits societies & helps govts better connect w/ their people. (2/2).” The story was picked up by the media, including The Los Angeles Times, who kept following the story, reporting two days later that the block had extended to Blackberry service.

The final stage was a complete Internet blackout. It was well planned, with multiple connection points going down simultaneously. Huffington Post reports that the trigger seems to have been a video from AP showing anti-government protestors being shot. It’s likely it was simply part of a graduated response that was escalating as it became clear protests would not be halted.

The final move stops not only coordination by anti-government forces, but also communication among Egyptian citizens, and communication between Egyptian citizens and the outside world. If we think of the internet as river, with little boats carrying boxes of “YouTube,” “Facebook,” “Twitter,” “e-mail,” and other types of messages, what Egypt has done upstream is build a giant dam.

The problem with dams, of course, is that the pressure will continue to build. Without an outlet, the communication cutoff will drive more people to protest and to engage in more grass roots and local activism. Equally significant, when the internet turns back on, the dam will break—and the flood of anti-government sentiment will likely drown everything in its path. Let’s not forget, the internet can’t stay off for long; commerce, government and modern society is just too dependent on it. While the shutdown may have been meticulously planned, likely with military precision, like most wars, the question of “afterwards” is unlikely to have been asked, let alone answered.

One thing however is clear: sovereign nations do ultimately control the internet within their borders. Egypt has shown they can ultimately turn it off. Technology companies, citizens, and the internet industry should take note. Once the road was free, without rules; then, government stepped in. The same will inevitably happen with the internet, and what the resulting balance it, and what rights the public have to unimpeded connectivity, is a matter not for companies but for the social contract between citizens and government. If something is to be salvaged from the current chaos, it may be the recognition of connectivity as a new human right in a globalised world. For now, let’s just hope the lights stay on and the Egyptians still remember their Morse code.

Andre Oboler is a social media expert and director of the Community Internet Engagement Project. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Lancaster University (UK) and was a Post Doctoral Fellow in Political Science at Bar-Ilan University (Israel).

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