Internet today is part of the very fabric of our daily lives. We use it to run businesses, communicate with friends, keep ourselves updated, and simply for entertainment purposes. It is hard to imagine life without the Internet. But, even in the 21st century, there are countries that provide restricted and monitored access to the internet to their citizens citing reasons such as national security. In such situations, Google came forward again and has presented its infrastructure and support to censorship-free internet across the globe.
Google, the 15-year-old search engine-turned gateway to information, launched Google Ideas, a cross-sector, inter-disciplinary “think tank” or “think/do tank”. In 2010, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, came to Jared Cohen, co-author of The New Digital Age with Schmidt, with this concept. The idea was to develop technologies that would “enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict, instability or repression.” Cohen, in an interview to Times, expressed the importance of Google Ideas and the ideology behind it.
There are billions of people around the world living in environments that severely restrict their free expression. We want to empower them to have access to the same Internet that the rest of us experience. We talk about how we have a responsibility to our users. That also includes people in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria, where the challenges are so serious.
Recently, Google has launched a series of services, software, and tools to help people get uncensored and restriction-free access to the internet. These tools are
Probably the most significant tool in the history of anti-censorship software. uProxy gives you restriction-free access to the Internet by connecting you to a trusted peer-to-peer network via people you already know. Most of you might have used torrents. uProxy works on the same principle as torrents do, i.e. peer-to-peer networking. It operates on top of already established human connections. You’d ask your friend who’s living in any of the censorship-free country to allow uProxy to use their internet as a gateway for you to access a banned website in your country, say YouTube or Skype. The traffic is encrypted so there’s no way to identify that you’re using uProxy to access banned content on the Internet.
Google is providing financial and technical assistance to uProxy. It was actually developed by researchers at the University of Washington and Brave New Software and in the process of restricted beta testing.
As the name suggest, Project Shield is an initiative being developed to help human rights activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), news organizations, and election monitoring groups against a very common type of Internet attack, the Distributed Denial of Serivce Attack (DDoS). DDoS is responsible for many high-profile attacks on media outlets and NGOs including a recent attack on The New York Times website.
Google is very good at protecting itself from DDoS attacks. But NGOs, independent media outlets, human rights organizations, and election-monitoring organizations don’t have the capacity to protect themselves in the way that we do.
Project Shield is currently under development and Google is seeking web-masters as “trused” testers for Project Shield. For now, Project Shield is said to be free.
Digital Attack Map
Digital Attack Map is a live data visualization tool being developed in conjunction with Arbor Networks. The map shows DDoS attacks taking place around the world in real-time. Upon hovering on each attack destination, it shows source of the attack (if detected), along with the packet data being sent to make the attack possible.
Users can see which websites are being attacked in real-time along with related news. There’s also an option of timeline, using which you can check the history of DDoS around the globe throughout last year.
What we’ve done for the first time is take all of the DDoS attacks worldwide and show what the state of DDoS activity looks like in real-time, much like you’d check the weather
What’s in it for Google, you might ask by now? It is not a non-profit organization (though it does have a non-profit wing, Google.org), neither it is a charity. Google is a multi-billion dollars tech giant that gets 56% of its business outside the US. Facebook, in collaboration with Nokia, Ericsson, and other companies, came up with Internet.org to facilitate internet access to untapped markets. When the same question was asked to Cohen, he replied,
If you think about some of the environments we’re talking about, like North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Sudan, all of these countries have sanctions on them. So there’s no business interest in these countries. The interest we have is in giving users in every environment the same level of security and unfiltered access that you or I have here in the United States. We care about free expression, and this is an example of us putting our product where our mouth is.
I agree with Cohen, all profits don’t come in the shape of $100 bills. A company makes its image via corporate social responsibility. Although the factor of earning profits from CSR activities is there undoubtedly, it is my personal opinion that in this case, Google actually wants to do some good. At the end of the end of the day, it would bring business to the tech giant any way.