An Indian eye hospital is piloting software that will push to doctors' iPhones retinal images collected from patients in remote locations.
Doctors can then quickly send their diagnosis and recommendations from their iPhones, said Anand Vinekar, project coordinator and pediatric retinal surgeon at the Narayana Nethralaya Postgraduate Institute of Ophthalmology in Bangalore.
...To improve its reach in rural and semi-urban areas, the hospital trained people to take eye images using a wide-angle retinal digital camera, with 130 degrees field of view. These people, who were not doctors or technicians, were also trained to make a preliminary diagnosis, Vinekar said.
Once the hospital started using images for a diagnosis, the doctors did not have to go to the rural locations every time for diagnosis, he added.
I've been taking quite a lot of heat lately for a somewhat promiscuous use of anecdotes in my quest to push against "Internet helps democracy" meme (see, for example, David Sasaki of Global Voices here and Patrick Meier of DigiActive here and here - Patrick's are responses to my cover story in the December issue of Prospect; I also responded to him already on my blog).
To summarize, in his two responses Patrick vehemently attacks me for basking in "anecdotal heaven" - as opposed, of course, to the "data hell" that he finds himself in - and does this probably a dozen times (and I do feel sorry for him - I hope Tufts, where he's completing his PhD, will compensate him adequately for this struggle against anecdotes).
Let me make a confession first: I love sound and informative data as much as the next guy. However, when the data is missing, I don't bite my lips - like some academics do - and strive to stimulate and enhance public debate instead. Why? Because it doesn't really matter what I decide to do in the end - CNN, FoxNews and others would invariably jump to conclusions about the "Twitter revolution in Iran" or the brave Chinese bloggers taking on the government. Normally, they would also completely disregard whatever complexities and local nuances are usually present in authoritarian countries.
My choice is to step into the fray, take the risk of being wrong (as I have been - for example, on the question of the Twitter revolution in Moldova), and try to introduce a more nuanced perspective on the role/use of technologies. This way, the public can at least hear a more nuanced perspective. Do I feel happy doing it without having the perfect data to support my talking points? I don't - but then again, I do know that I've made the best effort to acquaint myself with what is out there, both data and anecdote-wise. I can't say the same of many other people talking about the Internet & democracy.
The major problem with Patrick's criticism of my methods - which I think is representative of the new media academia in general - is that he believes in a world where not taking a public position - however flawed your data or arguments are - is a far better option than joining the public debate with imperfect data and arguments. On some issues, it probably is - many issues simply would not be discussed were it for people pushing them onto the public agenda - but to let much of the digital hysteria over the Internet's impact on democracy to go unchallenged, unchecked, and unverified is simply too demanding of a thing to ask , because decisions taken by funders, governments, and NGOs have repercussions far beyond their control.
Had Patrick decided to drop his numerous extracurricular activities and instead get us his magic data two years ago, I would have been perfectly happy to quote it when I got on television or the radio to discuss Iran or Moldova. Unfortunately, neither television nor radio would wait until Patrick completes his PhD to inform their viewers and listeners about what happened in Iran and what role the Internet played there. That's simply how public debate works in democracies and I frankly do not understand Patrick's problems with it.
If my critics want me to shut up and cede the microphone to some pundit-robot from a DC think-tank, well, I am not going to do that. And it's not just the media; it's also the government and the foundations - all of those need to quickly digest and interpret the situation to decide what to do next. Unfortunately, they can't wait for 10 years for some academic to tell them the exact role that new media played in Iran. Academics should either step up to the challenge and join the public debate - with data or not - or risk marginalization otherwise.
Would I feel more comfortable getting someone to pay me to spend the next 10 years to build a model that would tell me little that is new, interesting, or explanatory - just to be on the safer side in a public argument? Probably yes - especially, if I was an academic looking for a cool research gig. But I am not. I am not trying to build a model nor am I trying to test anything. My only function in this debate is to serve as a critic, i.e. take someone's argument, engage with it and spot holes and inconsistencies in its structure. And yes, finding inconsistencies in arguments - at least as far as Karl Popper is concerned - involves finding examples that would disprove the initial hypothesis.
Why don't I produce any data? Because I wasn't trained to do it, don't want to do it, and don't believe that gathering/testing data on most issues connected to digital activism is going to get us far ahead in this debate. I do not collect data for the same reasons that orchestra conductors do not fly planes. I can, of course, further push the argument that much of the data that is gathered by academics is to a large degree useless and doesn't really tell us much - but hey, I'll pass on that opportunity here. It's a bit silly to think that having over a gazillion data points from a gazillion countries gathered over a gazillion years would illuminate what really happened last summer in Iran. Anyone who thinks otherwise simply spends too much time in academia.
I doubt that Patrick is the first person to get hurt by my criticism of the field. I can even sense and understand a growing backlash against my ideas because I am attacking many of the key premises on which the very field of digital activism - and much of its philanthropic support - is based. My criticism is certainly not good news for many people working in this field, both from academic, professional, and financial perspectives. But it's their problem not mine. As long as the mainstream media keep producing drivel about the Internet and academics continue shying away from the public debate, I think my role is justified and safe.
I can only guess what Bill O'Reilly has to say about this. Probably, something along the lines of "Ban all phones!"
From a group calling themselves Electronic Civil Disobedience comes the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a simple mobile application intended to aid and abet border-crossers from Mexico to the United States by mapping the safest routes to take.
This GPS app is built to work on the cheapest cell phones available. It brings to mind every petty-but-illegal transgression the casual user could commit and stretches the boundaries of the permissibility of tech's uses for plausibly illegal means. The next time you use P2P or bit torrent clients to download media or use an iPhone app to detect police radars, think about this mobile application and how it reflects on American law and the Internet.
The app seems to originate from a hacktivist group out of UCSD - hardly a historical hotbed of technological innovation, but close enough to the US-Mexican border to have a significant impact on the politics of technology in that area. The group also advocates DDoS-like digital sit-ins to bog down the resources of websites it deems offensive.
Oman has just joined the club of what I call "Skype-paraonids": countries that think that allowing people to talk to each other over the Internet - using what is known as VoIP technology - is undermining their national security (Russia, India, Cuba, Germany are all proud members). From the Times of Oman:
The Royal Oman Police (ROP) raided 121 cyber cafes throughout the country and arrested 212 people for providing illegal Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoiP) service, a senior police officer said here yesterday.
Many cyber cafes and individuals were found using VoIP technology to provide cheap international phone services to customers, resulting in huge losses for local telecommunication providers, the officer said. ...Providing telecommunications services (international phone calls without a licence through Internet Protocol) is illegal in the Sultanate as per provisions of Article (20) of the Telecommunications Regulatory Act. Officials point out that violators of the telecom law will have to shell out RO50,000 or spend two years in jail or both.
Cheap international calls? Forget it. They are bad for your mental health, according to the Omani sultanate. Looking deeper into this reveals a whole trove of tricks and tips how to unblock VoIP in Oman - this must be a real pain not to be able to use Skype and other tools because of some state monopoly on communications...
And while we are on it: you should also forget about buying prepaid SIM cards for mobile service in Kashmir. They have been banned too - for the reasons of national security, of course. From AP:
A government ban on prepaid mobile phones to prevent rebels from using them to clandestinely plan attacks has stirred resentment among Indian-controlled Kashmir's impoverished residents, who depend on prepaid connections for inexpensive communication.
The move has led to angry protests amid warnings it put thousands of jobs at risk and jeopardised peace efforts in the disputed territory between the Indian government and Muslim separatists.
Authorities believe rebels use fake documents to obtain the phone cards to evade detection and detonate bombs. The Indian government announced last month that no new cards would be issued beginning November 1.
That preventing extremely poor and angry population from earning a living via mobiles may have even worse national security repercussions doesn't seem to be other anyone in Kashmir. It's as if rebels won't be able to get mobile phones through some other means...
p.s. Posting has been light here - and will remain so for the next few weeks: I am working on my book!
A group of Saudi's launched a group on a popular social networking website called The Facebook Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice and have so far to attracted more than 500 members.
The group, named after the kingdom's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice also known as the religious police, aims to introduce people to the religious police, the London-based al-Hayat reported Friday.
The group's administrators have set several conditions for membership, including, no foul language or slandering officials, only serious topics open for discussion and posters should be tolerant and open-minded.
If members insult Islam they will be allowed three warnings before they are deleted from the group.
Many Saudis were keen to join the group and a large portion of members praised the role the committee plays in the Saudi society and the way they protect citizens and imposes order.
"Citizen journalista are twitterting from all the latest rallies and gatherings. The folks we detained during the rallies on Oct 31 were twittering even from the buses and the police stations - what was happening, who was saying what, etc. We are constantantly on the look-out for what they are saying, what they are playing. We are reacting immediately - including on issues that deal with human rights".
If you read this blog and are in DC on Nov 17, you may want to come to this event, to hear me, my FP colleague Marc Lynch, and a whole bunch of other excellent people talk about social media, authoritarianism and free expression. Full announcement below - RSVP via Georgetown's web-site
Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and the Mortara Center for International Studies invite you to a lecture on
THE INTERNET, FREE EXPRESSION AND AUTHORITARIANISM
Please join us to discuss the evolving nature of authoritarianism in the age of social media and digital communications. Our speakers will assess the impact of new communication technology on regime stability, free expression and civic engagement, and discuss the changing political environments in Russia, China, and Iran.
2:00 to 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, November 17th 2009
3601 N. St. NW
Session I: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University
Session II: 3:30 - 5:00 PM
Senior Strategist, Social Media Desk, National Public Radio
Director of Business and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch
Co-author, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule
Professor, The George Washington University
Dancho Danchev, who is one of my most favorite bloggers on all things "cyber-security", has a great post about the rapidly changing market for DDOS attacks (btw, I think that the next supermegaduper-sequel to Freakonomics should definitely include a chapter about the markets for DDOS attacks)
...a huge number of "boutique vendors" of DDoS services remain reluctant to initiate DDoS attacks against government or political parties, in an attempt to stay beneath the radar. This mentality prompted the inevitable development of "aggregate-and-forget" type of botnets exclusively aggregated for customer-tailored propositions who would inevitably get detected, shut down, but end up harder to trace back to the original source compared to a situation where they would be DDoS the requested high-profile target from the very same botnet that is closely monitored by the security community.
The future of DDoS extortion attacks, however, looks a bit grey due the numerous monetization models that cybercriminals developed - for instance ransomware, which attempts to scale by extorting significant amounts of money from thousands of infected users in an automated and much more efficient way than the now old-fashioned DDoS extortion model.
Check Dancho's original post to see sample text of a cyber-extortion letter; I'll only post the bonus section here:
You will also receive several bonuses.
1. 30% discount if you request DDoS attack on your competitors/enemies. Fair market value ddos attacks a simple site is about $ 100 per night, for you it will cost only 70 $ per day.
2. If we turn to your competitors / enemies, to make an attack on your site, then we deny them.
Evgeny Morozov, originally from Belarus, is a visiting scholar at Stanford and a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation.