Global Mobile

This Week in Global Mobile | November 5, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • 1.34 billion mobile handsets will be shipped world-wide in 2010, with the Asia-Pacific region leading the push, according to ABI Research.
  • Yesterday the E.U. released a paper announcing intentions to update and improve cyber privacy laws throughout the Union as early as next year.
  • Record-breaking Internet traffic per minute surpassed that of President Obama’s 2008 win during Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to Akamai.
  • AT&T launched its own health care unit called AT&T ForHealth to deliver 21st-century technology solutions to the health care industry.
  • The Kenyan government launched a breaking news SMS service, allowing citizens to receive latest news to their mobile phones “before the media manipulates it.”
  • Nigerian telecom carrier Globacom announced the construction of a US$600 million undersea communications cable to increase bandwidth and reduce costs in the country.
  • Joining Facebook and Google, Twitter just filled a full-time position in Washington D.C. in a move indicative of social media’s growing political influence.
  • Josh Wood explores Lebanon’s increasing crackdowns on Internet Freedom in his latest piece in the New York Times.
  • And finally, a look at how crisis-mapping platform Ushahidi was used yet again to monitor elections, this time in last week’s presidential vote in Tanzania.

This Week in Global Mobile | October 29, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (formerly a member of Secretary Clinton’s innovation team) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about technology’s emerging role in political activism, and a longer piece in Foreign Affairs. Sam responds here.
  • Ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections, Tanzanian officials on the island of Zanzibar are using mobile phones to tell citizens where their assigned polling station is.
  • Jackson Diehl of WaPo reminds us of the importance of pushing for Internet Freedom in authoritarian countries around the world.
  • Dayo Olopade writes in Foreign Policy about Google’s growing role in African affairs, exploring the various success and failures the tech giant has had so far.
  • The 2010 World e-Parliament Conference opened in Africa this week in an effort to highlight the importance of incorporating modern technology in developing countries.
  • As Facebook’s popularity grows worldwide, Tim Wu at explores the extent to which the social media site might adopt a foreign policy agenda.
  • Earlier this week at George Washington University, Facebook and Politico teamed up to discuss how social media are transforming campaigns.
  • The African Union designated various heads of state, including South African President Jacob Zuma, to champion information communication technology across the continent.
  • A Cisco Visual Networking Index Usage survey released on Monday reveals how broadband is dramatically changing the way and amount we access the Internet, with the average connection generating 15GB of Internet traffic monthly (up 30% from last year).
  • Google announced a $5 million donation to be awarded to innovation in digital journalism.
  • Cecilia Kang at WaPo compares and contrasts the U.S. and E.U.’s varying approaches to dealing with claims of privacy violation by Google’s Street View service.
  • In Cuba state-controlled access to Internet is leaving many in the technological dust and widening the digital divide, reports Laritza Diversent.
  • The Internet adds $159bn to the UK economy each year, with small business online sales growing by 43% a year in the country, according to a new report released yesterday.

Google's Foreign Policy

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen co-author a very curious piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, called The Digital Disruption.  What's curious isn't the lightly tempered enthusiasm about the potential of technology to devolve power away from states to individual citizens-- classic Schmidt, classic Cohen-- nor is it curious to find an essay from a pair of Googlers in the foremost journal of international affairs, after all, the company has had a significant and growing impact on our world. Rather, what's so curious is the direction of their conclusions.

They spend most of the essay offering their overview of how connection technologies are changing the world: empowering citizens and civil society to play a larger role in global affairs, while also giving nasty governments new tools to censor, surveil, and manipulate their populations. I agree with the majority of their analysis, though they stay at such a macro, sweeping-landscape level that the essay doesn't end up going beyond overbroad generalizations backed up with reference to the usual examples-- Iran in '09, M-Pesa, A Million Voices Against FARC, you know the stories.

What I might have expected from this pair of authors was a reflection on the role of Google and other internet companies in this new world-- an explanation of their own foreign policy. To be sure, since global corporations existed, they have played a significant role in international affairs: think United Fruit, Blackwater, Exxon-Mobil. But for corporations in the information business-- an inherently political business, as Schmidt and Cohen point out-- their respective "foreign policies" can dramatically affect the political course of states both authoritarian and democratic, and the trajectory of political freedom around the world.

Schmidt and Coehn are, of course, acutely aware of all this, and that comes through in their piece. But rather than offering their take on the fascinating, important, and largely unexplored question of how information companies should approach their role in global politics, the conclusions of the essay are effectively advice to the U.S. government on how to craft foreign policy in the information age.  The big arguments and many of the supporting examples of their piece are no different from the arguments and examples that that made up Secretary Hillary Clinton's January speech on Internet Freedom-- a speech Cohen was closely involved in crafting while working on the State Department's policy planning staff.

Cohen was advocating for all these same arguments up through his departure from the State Department in September.  And now that he's landed at Google Ideas, we get an essay from him and the CEO of Google advocating for what is already, in effect, enshrined in the State Department's policy.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  It's just odd, no? And it probably doesn't help perceptions in Washington that Google is too close to our executive branch.

On a somewhat more substantive level, the essay seems to jump back and forth between extolling the power of new technologies and warning against their dangers. One representative passage:

Connection technologies will add to the strains of less developed societies -- forcing them to become more open and accountable while also giving governments new tools to constrain opposition and become more closed and repressive. There will be a constant struggle between those striving to promote what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called "the freedom to connect" and those who view that freedom as inimical to their political survival.

There's something to this. I argued in a blog post a few months back that the arrival of connection technologies in less developed countries wouldn't necessarily presage openness and democracy, but it would force governments to make a choice. Activists and civil society will have new, more powerful tools at their disposal to fight for liberal change, and governments will have to either accept that change, or go in the opposite direction and crack down. 

Schmidt and Cohen predict that "Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority."  That may be true once or twice, but governments aren't going to keep getting fooled.  It's hard to imagine the Iraninan government being surprised by the role of cell phones and social media in the next uprising.  Same goes for China, or Vietnam, or Egypt, or any other government that has more or less figured it out.

But the stakes are high in the less-connected, somewhat-democratic states that have yet to reckon with the change that technology is bringing. China has a model of information-control that they're marketing aggressively in the developing world, and for governments presented with pressure from within, the decision to close their societies and close information access is an easy and attractive one. For the sake of human rights, but also for the sake of American interests in a more democratic world, it's important that the U.S. and other democratic states present their alternative of openness and information freedom.

After reading their piece, I think Schmidt, Cohen and I are on the same page on that.  As is, I'm glad to say, the U.S. State Department. Someday soon, I hope to tackle questions around the foreign policy of information corporations. We caught a glimpse of Google's evolving idea of their role in the world earlier this year, when the company explained their withdrawal from China, but there are still a lot of open questions...

Mobile Tech: Chile’s Unsung Hero

Joining one billion people worldwide, I spent last week watching the drama unfold in a northern Chilean desert as rescue workers pulled to safety all 33 miners who’d spent 69 days trapped half a mile undeground. The miners’ families, engineers, Chilean President Pinera, and rescue workers all played important roles in the operation’s success. But out of this remarkable story emerges an unsung hero worth mentioning. An operation of this sophistication would not have enjoyed success without the mobile communication technologies which made the whole thing possible.

Mobile tech at the mine

Mobile communication technologies made it easy for rescue crews to monitor the miners throughout their ordeal. Through three 6”-wide holes bored side-by-side into their underground refuge, “Los 33” received remote imaging and communications equipment sent down through 5-foot tubes, or palomas. These TV cameras and microphones, according to TechNews Daily, allowed the rescuers to visually evaluate the situation before moving forward.

A single fiberoptic communications cable, produced jointly by Chile’s state copper company and a Japanese technology firm, served as the refuge’s electronic umbilical cord. Its high-capacity cable was designed specifically to adapt to the flexes and curves of the bore hole, allowing the rescue team to transfer video, images, and audio with the trapped miners.

Chilean reporter Alexis Ibarra visited the mine in August to drop down three miniature projectors. One of these was the Samsung i7410 mobile phone, a cell phone with a built-in projector the miners used to watch family messages and soccer videos. TVN, Chile’s state-run TV station, was even able to transmit Chile’s soccer game against Ukraine live into the miner’s refuge using the fiberoptic cable and the Samsung handset/projector. Other mobile devices, such as Sony PSPs, next-gen portable speakers, and iPods, were also lowered down to the miners through the palomas.

In the weeks leading up to the miners’ ascent, Annapolis-based mobile telemetry firm Zephyr was called in to provide the digital tools necessary to help rescuers monitor the health of Los 33. Their Physiological Status Monitoring (PSM) solution tracked the miners’ hear rates, body temperatures, respiration levels, and more, transmitting the data to medics monitoring 2,000 feet overhead. During their 15-minute ascent to the surface, the miners donned a special PSM vest to ensure they didn’t black out. They also hooked up to a Panasonic ToughBook U1 laptop, a durable, touchscreen device used by first responders and other emergency technicians.

Mobile tech across the globe

As remarkable as the rescue effort itself were the technologies used to transmit the event to people’s TVs, phones, and computers across the world. Inmarsat’s BGAN network solution was the key to relaying the video feed from the mine to the media. Using Stratos Global’s global IP network, it provided an ad-hoc, reliable, broadband feed directly to broadcasters’ headquarters world-wide. In short, a global communications network efficiently and reliably emerged in a time of crisis to publicize the event across the planet.

Once this video was made available to the global audience, viewers and social media users tuned in in record numbers. Online live video streaming service Ustream drew 5.3 million viewers, eclipsing the all-time record held by Michael Jackson’s memorial service. served 3 million live video streams, representing a 2,700% increase over the average. On the mobile end, CNN application downloads to smart phones jumped 250 percent.

Other media outlets enjoyed huge spikes in online traffic,particularly among the Spanish-speaking population. Univisión’s online news service attracted 18% more unique visits than the previous record held on Election Day 2008. Its mobile service, Univisión Móvil, received 2.7 million page views, just shy of the all-time record established during the World Cup.

Mashable put together a great list of other digital, social media, and mobile successes, including:

  • 104,000 tweets were sent per hour referencing the rescue.
  • Fox News attracted 2.4 times its normal audience size, drawing the greatest viewership since Election Day 2008.
  • Google searches for the rescue jumped from an average of 243 million to 600 million.

All said and done, the Chile rescue was as successful for the online world as it was for the miners themselves. CNN reports that overall Internet traffic jumped up to 20% worldwide, which Akamai documents as the fifth-highest since it started recording data five years ago.

Looking Ahead

Perhaps most exciting about the use of global communications and mobile technology during the Chile rescue is the new tech currently being developed for similar situations in the future. In the U.S., two companies are working on emergency wireless networks that function deep underground using devices safe for use in highly flammable environments. In Australia, Inmarsat’s IsatPhonePro is set to launch, providing the world’s first made-for-miners satellite mobile phone. And military contract heavyweight Raytheon has developed a sophisticated navigation system for underground use, similar to GPS.

As “Los 33”prepare for book deals and soccer with presidents, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize that the entire story’s success -- both operationally at Camp Hope and as the event was broadcast across the world -- hinged upon the instrumental role played by global mobile technology. From providing the trapped miners with reliable communication to transmitting the event live across the world, the Chilean rescue should be admired as a testament to the growing power of global communications technology.

This Week in Global Mobile | October 22, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • Akamai’s State of the Internet report released yesterday serves as a detailed chronicle of Internet access and how it has changed throughout the world since 1999.
  • Addressing the San Fransisco Commonwealth Club, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commended America’s commitment to technological innovation and leadership.
  • Cellular M2M (machine-to-machine) connections are anticipated to grow steadily to 297 million in 2015, with European countries accounting for the largest share.
  • Facebook teamed up with MTV and GLAAD to form a “Network of Support” for LGBTQ teenagers to provide support and combat cyberbullying.
  • The ITU released a report Wednesday predicting that 162 million of the 226 million new global Internet users will emerge in developing countries in 2010.
  • A recent study demonstrated that nine out of ten Indian women feel safer with mobile phones.
  • From November 14 to 17, Brazilians techies will meet at the second annual Brazilian Digital Culture Forum to bridge connections between various cultural and communications initiatives taking place around the country.
  • California Senatorial candidates Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer shared their views on net neutrality, a topic of considerable importance in Silicon Valley.
  • Online video streaming service Ustream experienced record number of viewers during last week’s rescue of the Chilean miners. Stay tuned for a full recap on the event’s impact on global mobile tech.
  • Egyptian mobile subscribers increased to 60 million in August, representing a 20.3% increase year-on-year.
  • President Obama’s right-hand man for health IT warned that digitizing medicine may create a new, dangerous sort of the digital divide.
  • On Wednesday the Canadian government found Google guilty of breaching privacy laws through its acquisition of pictures for its Street View service.
  • Yesterday the FCC held a forum to discuss the impending spectrum crunch caused by an increase in demand for capacity in wireless networks.

Reading: The Murderers of Mexico

The single best account I've read (in English, anyway) of Mexico's drug war is an article in the current New York Review of Books by Alma Guillermoprieto. Looking at four books on the personalities, politics, and events surrounding the violence that has claimed nearly 28,000 lives in the past four years, her review rings true on all the gruesome and terrible points it touches.  From her introduction: 

We, the people in charge of telling the story, know far too little ourselves about a clandestine upstart society we long viewed as marginal, and what little we know cannot be explained in print media’s standard eight hundred words or less (or broadcast’s two minutes or under). And the story, like the murders, is endlessly repetitive and confusing: there are the double-barreled family names, the shifting alliances, the double-crossing army generals, the capo betrayed by a close associate who is in turn killed by another betrayer in a small town with an impossible name, followed by another capo with a double-barreled last name who is betrayed by a high-ranking army officer who is killed in turn. The absence of understanding of these surface narratives is what keeps the story static, and readers feeling impotent. Enough time has passed, though, since the beginning of the drug war nightmare1 that there is now a little perspective on the problem. Academics on both sides of the border have been busy writing, and so have the journalists with the most experience. Thanks to their efforts, we can now begin to place some of the better-known traffickers in their proper landscape.

From Guillermoprieto's discussion of Howard Campbell's book "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez," which I now want to read:

Campbell’s central contention, stated in the title of his book, is that the whole idea of a Mexican drug smuggling enterprise, or problem, is untenable: a land so thoroughly bilingual, bicultural, miscegenated, and porous—despite the arbitrary demarcation of a border and the increasingly weird and futile efforts to seal it—can really only be studied and understood as a united territory and a single problem. This is an idea so breathtakingly sensible as to amount to genius,2 and one wonders how many deaths could be avoided if policymakers on both sides of the Rio Grande shared this vision and coordinated not only their law enforcement efforts but their education, development, and immigration policies accordingly.

And from her conclusion:

An easy conclusion would be that Mexico, or the drug war zone, is in the hands of a failed state. But a failed state does not constantly build new roads and schools, or collect taxes, or generate legitimate industrial and commercial activity sufficient to qualify it as one of the twelve largest economies in the world. In a failed state drivers do not stop at red lights and garbage is not collected punctually. The question is, rather, whether in the face of unstoppable activity by highly organized criminals, the Mexican government can adequately enforce the rule of law and guarantee the safety of its citizens everywhere in the country. This, at the moment, the administration of Felipe Calderón does not seem able to do, either in large parts of the countryside or in major cities like Monterrey. There is little doubt that Calderón’s strategy of waging all-out war to solve a criminal problem has not worked. Whether any strategy at all can work, as long as global demand persists for a product that is illegal throughout the world, is a question that has been repeated ad nauseam. But it remains the indispensable question to consider.

But I really think you should just read the whole thing.

Commerce's NOI on the Global Free Flow of Information

A couple weeks back, the Commerce Department released their Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on the Global Free Flow of Information on the Internet. Basically, Commerce is looking for responses from stakeholders to help the Department advise the President on how information freedom is restricted on the internet, what impact those restrictions have on the U.S. economy, and how to craft policy in an intelligent way to allow the internet to continue to be a driver of economic growth in the U.S. Just by itself, the Notice is a good primer on these subjects, and I'd encourage you to give it a read.

This is part of a broader effort of Commerce's Internet Policy Task Force, which has put out similar NOIs on issues surrounding privacy, copyright, and cybersecurity. In this latest NOI, all of these issues come together in the section on "intermediary liability." How we answer questions about how the internet industry will work with (or be forced to work with) governments on issues of copyright, privacy and security will have profound impacts on online freedom of information and expression.  From the NOI:

Governments must balance the interests of users who post information on the Internet, and other parties who access the user-generated material. In seeking to prevent the distribution of objectionable or illegal material, many governments have looked to Internet intermediaries to serve a role in implementing governmental restrictions on information. However, the burden of screening, analyzing and carefully filtering each piece of user-generated information is a task beyond the resources available to most Internet intermediaries. Moreover, if governments burden intermediaries with excessive or ill-defined responsibility for content not their own, then they will have no choice but to exercise harmful restrictions on the free flow of information, goods and services online. Governments therefore need to consider the effectiveness of requiring intermediaries to enforce or implement information restrictions against the costs that may deter intermediaries from operating in particular jurisdictions or from creating new Internet business models.

More broadly, it's good to see the Commerce Department taking up these issues. While I've always been an advocate for human rights, I have no trouble seeing that "restrictions on internet freedom violate the universal human right of access to information" might be less persuasive to some people than "restrictions on the free flow of information is bad for business." Both approaches are valuable, and I hope Commerce and State will continue to harmonize their efforts on these issue.

In July, we hosted Anita Ramasastry of the IPTF for a discussion on online information freedom. A recap and video of the event is here, if you'd like to check it out.

This Week in Global Mobile | October 15, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • The Kenyan government launched a virtual court, which uses videoconferencing technology to allow litigants to appear electronically in court, in order to increase transparency reduce corruption.
  • Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, reflects on the valuable role of technology in curbing drug-related violence in Ciudad Juarez. Also check out Sam's thoughts on new media and journalism in Mexico.
  • For the past 24 hours, the Manchester Police have been tweeting every 999 call (the British 911 equivalent) they receive to publicize the departments’ diverse efforts towards increasing safety.
  • The Egyptian government is set to impose new SMS restrictions in an attempt to reduce anti-regime activism during next month’s parliamentary elections.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $20 million initiative to fund Internet-based ventures aimed at improving low college graduation rates in the U.S.
  • European researchers have developed a prototype of a Body Area Network for the Android platform, which wirelessly transmits and displays electrocardiogram signals from sensors on the body to the handheld device.
  • A Nielsen report released yesterday indicates that American mobile-equipped teens use four times as much data per month as they did one year ago. They also text six times per waking hour -- nearly 4,000 each month.
  • The Colombian government promised to invest $159 million to bring digital television to all Colombian households via terrestrial and satellite connections.
  • India has extended until January 31 the deadline for BlackBerry’s manufacturer RIM to give the government full access to encrypted BBM messages sent among users in the country.
  • 175 million American Internet users watched online video a total of 5.2 billion times throughout the month of September, comScore reports.


This Week in Global Mobile | October 8, 2010

At times it's difficult to keep pace with the latest global mobile developments. I hope this selection of news stories from the past week will help you navigate the growing global network of connectivity:

  • Yesterday Secretary Clinton announced the mWomen initiative, which plans to provide 150 million women world-wide with mobile phones to improve access to education, information, and economic independence in the developing world.
  • Nokia is developing an amazing new mobile app for users with disabilities which measures their brainwaves to determine when to scroll through and call their contacts.
  • Reporting from Mexico, Sam reflects on the Mexican Senate’s opposition to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and its implications on privacy on the Web.
  • The World Bank launched its Apps for Development initiative, asking the public to submit applications that “move us a step closer towards solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.”
  • This week, the U.S. State Department announced the winners of the Apps4Africa contest. Among the winners: iCow, a voice-based mobile app which allows farmers to manage their livestock’s breeding cycle.
  • CTIA released statistics indicating that Americans relayed an astounding 1.8 trillion texts in June 2010, while total mobile device adoption increased 5% YOY to 292.8 million.
  • A new handheld breath monitoring device studied by Stony Brook university could help users monitor blood sugar levels and detect diseases such as lung cancer.
  • As Tanzania’s October 30th general election approaches, Global Voices takes a close look at the critical role social media and online video are playing in the campaigns.
  • More than 3.1 million New York public, private, and charter students will soon have free access to Google’s Apps for Education, thanks to a partnership announced this week with the New York Institute of Technology.
  • Today President Obama will sign a bill which will make the Internet and smartphones more accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Global Internet traffic grew an astonishing 62% over the past year, according to research firm Teleography.
  • 92% of Americans have an online presence or profile by the time they reach two years of age.
  • A report released Wednesday by Pyramid Research predicted African mobile money transfers would exceed $200bn by 2015 -- nearly the entire GPD of South Africa.


Internet Necesario and the Mexican Netroots

On Tuesday, the Mexican Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging President Felipe Calderon to withdraw from negotiations over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The grounds of their opposition? Concern about the treaty's restrictions on privacy on the internet and free access to information.

If that sounds like an uncommon concern of the Mexican Senate, you would be right. So how did we get here? Come back with me to October 2009...

A year ago, the Mexican Senate proposed a new excise tax of 4% on all telecommunications. After a minor outcry, they revised the rate down to 3%, but it was hardly the cost that rankled Mexico's netroots-- the tax would add just a few pesos to their monthly bill. Rather, the devil lay in the scheme of the tax, which put telecommunications-- including internet access-- in a category typically reserved for tobacco, liquor, and luxury items.

It's hard to imagine an opportunity more ripe for web-based protest, and the Twitter users of Mexico coalesced around the hashtag #internetnecesario ("the internet is a necessity").  In a week in late October, thousands of irate Mexicans pushed the phrase into Twitter's trending topics-- one of the first times a Spanish phrase had made the cut-- and brought the proposed tax to the attention of the media and the Senate itself.

By week's end-- the last day of the legislative session-- "Internet Necessario" had surpassed negotiations over the federal budget as the country's top political story, and Mexican Senators were getting crash courses in the internet age. With many of the capital's Twitterati sitting in the room for negotiations over the tax, the proceedings were broadcast live across the internet, and the Senators' words were subject to instantaneous scrutiny, ridicule, or praise: an unusual circumstance for policymakers who typically operated at a distance from their constituents.

In the end, the tax was voted down unanimously, and the idea of the internet as a "luxury" was cast out of the discourse with derision. The lesson for the Senators was clear: don't mess with the internet, because people are paying attention, and can make their voices heard in ways previously unimaginable.

Senator Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca, Chair of the Senate's Science and Technology Commission, was a leader in the fight against the telecommunications tax. He was also a leader in social media-- a year ago, he was the only member of the Senate on Twitter; now over 40 Senators are tweeting madly. By all accounts, Senators are engaging with citizens over Twitter to an extent that has never been seen before in Mexican democracy.

The end of this story (for now) is of course that ACTA suffered a harsh blow from the Mexican Senate this week. A year since this country's netroots first made their voices heard, they have enjoyed ever more direct contact with their government, and were able to successfully mobilize for a cause once again. The Calderon government is likely to continue negotiations over the treaty, despite the unanimous resolution against it.  Still, a treaty like this would require ratification from the Senate, so its chances of passing into law here seem far dimmer since the Mexican netroots made their voices heard.

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