Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Indian concerns about Google Earth

April 18, 2006

Coolz0r is quite opinionated about requests by India, South Korea and a few other countries for Google to censor sensitive information on Google Maps and Google Earth. Coolz0r is blogging on the very popular blog Inside Google, while the original blog-owner Nathan is on vacation.

India and a few other countries are "alarmed at the ease with which Google Earth enables any user to quickly get a satellite photo of just about any area on the planet." Here's what Coolz0r has to say on Why Terrorists Love Google:

First of all, Google isn’t alone. There are other search engines that offer a similar service. Xxxxx, xxx xxxx [removed upon kind request] It’s not that you don’t have libraries with books that have this footage too… It’s not that you have anything to hide, or is it? If any terrorist got briefed sufficiently enough, he would be getting military information from some corrupt high-placed officer, just like they get arms from those same sources.

Agreed! A determined terrorist can indeed find the maps and satellite imagery he needs, from non-Google, non-search engine, non-freely-available-on-the-Internet sources. However, the question is not about whether or not a terrorist can get this information. The question is about the ease with which the terrorist can access this information and the speed with which he can use this information.

If a terrorist could kill 100 people if there were no satellite images on the Internet, but if Google Maps enables him to kill 101 people – just one extra person – then, we should give more serious thought to this issue. Not just think of it from the freedom of information perspective. If you are a friend, relative, parent, partner or child of that one extra person, how would you feel?

If it takes 90 days for a terrorist to gather all the data and plan a terrorist strike in the absence of satellite images on the Internet, but if Google Earth makes it possible for her/him to plan the strike in 30 days or even 60 days, then this issue needs more thought.

Obviously, this issue is quite not so black and white. While all of us hippies and freedom lovers would love for all information to be freely available, displayed and shared, the rest of the world is not quite so loving. There are people who are capable of using our love of freedom against us, to harm our interests.

Moreover, India, South Korea and other countries are not asking for general information about your residential neighborhoods, city streets and driving directions to be censored. They are asking for "sensitive" locations, such as, military installations to be protected. Incidentally, Google does censor information about the White House. I also remember reading somewhere that Google extends a similar courtesy to Israel's defence facilities. Why not the same for India and other countries?

Go Indian girls!

April 7, 2006

Ethnic Indian girls (native-born or otherwise) stand out among the winners of the 2006 Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship. At least, FOUR names in the list of 19 winners of the $10,000 per person scholarship are very Indian. Among the 28 names of "highly qualified finalists" who were each awarded $1000, SIX are obviously Indian names. That is, over 20% – one in five – girls are Indians in both lists!

From the Official Google Blog on This year's Anita Borg Scholarship winners (Indian names have been bolded by Right Indian):

We're awarding 19 $10,000 scholarships to these outstanding young women — graduate and undergraduate students who are completing degrees in computer science and related fields — with our congratulations:

  • Brianna Bethel, University of Colorado – Boulder
  • G. Ayorkor Mills – Tettey, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Gillian Rachael Hayes, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Himabindu Pucha, Purdue University
  • Karen Fullam, University of Texas at Austin
  • Kristen Walcott, University of Virginia
  • Kristina Chodorow, New York University
  • Laura Rouse, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Marta Magdalena Luczynska, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Megan Olsen, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Michele Banko, University of Washington
  • Neven Abou Gazala, University of Pittsburgh
  • Parisa Michelle Tabriz, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Rebecca Nancy Nesson, Harvard University
  • Shana Kay Watters, University of Minnesota
  • Sharmishtaa Seshamani, Johns Hopkins University
  • Soumi Sinha, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Tracy Westeyn, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Vinithra Varadharajan, Carnegie Mellon University

And we also recognize these 28 highly qualified finalists, who will receive $1,000 awards from us:

  • Alicia Avelon Permell, Michigan Tech University
  • Anagha Mudigonda, Polytechnic University New York
  • Anna Tikhonova, University of California, Davis
  • Annie (Hsin-Wen) Liu, University of Washington
  • Ashima Kapur, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Cindy Rubio Gonzalez, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Delphine Nain, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Divya Arora, Princeton University
  • Emily Grace Christiansen, University of Minnesota-Morris
  • Emily Shen, Stanford University
  • Erika Chin, University of Virginia
  • Eva Mok, University of California, Berkeley
  • Evelyn Mintarno, Stanford University
  • Gina Upperman, Rice University
  • Hayley Nicole Iben, University of California, Berkeley
  • Jiayue He, Princeton University
  • Jing Chen, University of Pennsylvania
  • Laureen Lam, San Jose State University
  • Lingyun Zhang, University of California, San Diego
  • Lu Xiao, Pennsylvania State University
  • Meeta Sharma Gupta, Harvard University
  • Moushumi Sharmin, Marquette University
  • Neha Rungta, Brigham Young University
  • Rachel Weinstein, Stanford University
  • Sunny Consolvo, University of Washington
  • Tanya Lee Ann Crenshaw, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Valerie Hajdik, Texas A&M University
  • Xiaonan Zhao, Northwestern University

Also, check out the number of names in that list which seem to be Asian (including Indian). The future of American industry is definitely in the hands of ethnic Asians.

An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature

February 20, 2006

Google Books has set its sights on India. Rediff.com reports that Google woos Indian publishers:

Google has turned on the charm at the book fair in Delhi. “Books are written to be discovered, and that’s the challenge we’re helping publishers solve with Google Book Search,” gushes Gautam Anand, strategic partner development manager, Google Inc; “it’s a great discovery tool.”

And, get this: Hindi books are to be digitised too, as part of Google’s brand mission to “organise all the world’s information and make it universally accessible”.

In this context, I have an earnest appeal to Google: Make all known Sanskrit literature available online.

There is an immense treasure trove of ancient wisdom available in Sanskrit covering almost all important topics of human interest including spirituality, health, fiction, poetry, mythology, astrology, statecraft, sexuality, etc. So far, this invaluable treasure has been accessible only to a very small minority of Indians and non-Indians. It would be of immense benefit to the whole world, if this could be digitized and made available online to anyone, anywhere with Internet access.

For a long time now, I have dreamt of an online Sanskrit repository with the following features:

  1. Digital copy of all available Sanskrit texts in the original Devanagari script.
  2. English translations of the Sanskrit texts by respected and authoritative scholars. Where possible, multiple translations by different scholars, multiple languages, word-for-word translations.
  3. A special “comment” section where users and readers can record their own interpretations and commentaries on specific portions of the above texts.

I lack the time and resources to make such a repository possible. However, this is something that Google can achieve quite easily. Google has the resources. Google has the reach. I request Google to help create a repository like the one I have described above.

An immense volume of ancient information is locked in old Sanskrit texts, many of which are in rare or unavailable print editions. There are countless people all over the world who are interested in this information, but it is not easily available to them. Printed copies of the books are only available from specialized publishing houses, in specific stores. The few online resources are very inadequate and unreliable. Some of these ancient texts are in danger of being lost forever because publishers are not reprinting them. Organizing and making this invaluable wisdom universally accessible would be a special jewel, shining in Google’s crown forever. If this is not done, Google would have missed an important step in its mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.

I am sending a copy of the above appeal to Google Books. If you, dear reader, see value in an online repository of Sanskrit texts like the one I have described above, please send an email to books-feedback@google.com. Be sure to refer to this blog post in your email so that Google knows we are talking about the same thing. Hopefully, we will see this become a reality soon.

Update on Feb 28th, 2006: After I emailed Google Books, I got an automated email acknowledgement immediately. The next day, I received the following email. The contents of the email are rather generic, even if it was sent by a human. Here it is for what it is worth:

From: Google Book Search Support (books-feedback@google.com)
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 3:11 PM
To: Right Indian
Subject: Re: [#47394347] An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature
Hello,

Thank you for your email.

We appreciate your taking the time to offer us this feedback and encourage you to continue to let us know how we can improve Google Book Search. As this is still a young program, new features are under consideration and your feedback is very helpful.

Sincerely,

The Google Book Search Team

—————-
To access the Google Books Partner Program home page or to log in to your account, please visit: https://books.google.com/partner

Original Message Follows:
————————
From: Right Indian
Subject: An Appeal to Google Books for Sanskrit Literature
Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2006 11:58:17 -0800 (PST)

Hello,
  
  I have an earnest appeal to Google Books: Make all known Sanskrit literature available online…

Underpaid H-1B workers in the US

February 15, 2006

This news is at least 3 months old. Nevertheless, it is relevant and will continue to be so for sometime into the future. ComputerWorld reported in an article Computech Agrees to Pay $2.65M in H-1B Worker Case dated Dec 12, 2005:

Computech Corp. late last month agreed to pay $2.65 million in back wages and fines to settle a U.S. Department of Labor complaint that it underpaid workers from overseas.

The company, which is settling the dispute without admitting to any of the allegations, agreed to pay $2.25 million in back wages to employees in amounts ranging from less than $2,000 to more than $40,000.

The settlement may be the largest back-wage payment ordered under the federal H-1B visa program, according to Brad Mitchell, a Labor Department spokesman.

Computech is not the only company which routinely underpays its employees in the US. Underpaid H-1B (and also L1) workers in the US is a more common phenomenon than most employers would admit. This is widely true of Indian workers who are employed by recruiting agencies (or bodyshops) which hire them out as contractors to American companies. This is especially true of Indian workers in the US, who are employed by India-based companies which are in the outsourcing business.

The bodyshops sponsor H-1B visas for workers from India, and hire them out as contractors to American companies. They make their money by withholding a percentage of the hourly wages that American companies pay for the work done by these contractors. Depending on the arrangement between the worker and the bodyshop, they may withhold anywhere from 15% to 35% of the pay. Typically it is between 20-25%.

The contractor is lucky if there is only one bodyshop which takes a percentage of his/her pay. A lot of times, this is not the case. The bodyshops are usually not big enough to have access to a large number of job openings. So, they network with other bodyshops to find jobs for their workers. For example, a guy might be employed by bodyshop B, which has sponsored his H-1B work permit. However, bodyshop B might not have access to the job which matches the guy’s skills. So, bodyshop B networks with bodyshop C, whose clients might have a job for the guy. So, when the guy gets paid, both bodyshop B and bodyshop C get a cut out of his wages. There are cases where there might be upto three bodyshops taking their cuts from the wages a worker is paid!

It is a slightly different story with India-based companies which send their employees to work at client sites in the US on a temporary basis – normally for the duration of a project, it might be from a few months to a few years. They refer to these employees as onsite employees. These companies don’t take a percentage cut from the wages the American client pays for their onsite employees’ work. They pay their employees a fixed salary. The salary these companies pay is almost never fair and on par with the pay-levels in the market. It could be anywhere from 15% to 50% below the fair market-level. Most of the times it is lesser by 25% or more!

India-based companies enjoy higher margins of profit on the work done by their offshore employees in India. They bill their clients for such work in dollars, and pay a significantly small portion of that dollar amount as the salary in Indian rupees to their employees. Since they are used to such high profit margins for their offshore employees, they are reluctant to reduce the margins by much for their onsite workers in the US.

Another issue is one of the mind-set. From the India-based company’s point of view, when the onsite salary they pay is converted to Indian rupees and compared to offshore salary-levels in absolute terms, their onsite employees seem to earn a much higher pay than the offshore employees. So, they don’t feel a need to pay their onsite employees on par with the US market.

These practices are prevalent in small companies as well as the large ones. Right now, most companies indulging in these practices in the US are getting away with it quite easily. Indians are not a litigious people, primarily because of the corrupt and slow judicial system in India. Moreover, they are reluctant to take recourse to the law, for fear of losing their jobs and left with no means of support in a foreign country. Even in a country like the US where the judicial system is quite effective and accountability is high, the Computech settlement took as much as six to seven years to resolve, as per the ComputerWorld article.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Labor doesn’t seem to be doing much to look into this issue of underpaid H-1B (and L1) workers in the US. The article about the Computech settlement has the following to say on this subject:

Ron Hira, vice president of career activities at The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. in New York and an assistant professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, argued that the government’s enforcement mechanism is weak because it relies on complaints from H-1B workers. The Department of Labor doesn’t have the power to make spot audits of companies, but Hira said the agency needs to be able to do that if it is to be proactive about such cases.

So, the companies are making hay while the Sun’s light is not shining on them. When their practices become public under a scorching light, they will have to make changes in haste or pay a huge amount to settle lawsuits like Computech did.

Google Censors in USA??

February 9, 2006

Do a Google image search for “Prophet Mohammed Cartoon.

6 pages worth of results containing 1,110 pictures are returned as of today. NOT ONE of those pictures are actually the cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed! Repeating the search with different spellings of Mohammed or Mohammad does not give any better results.

One can’t help but wonder if Google is suppressing the display of these images everywhere, including in the US of A! It is hard to believe that Google image search results do not show any cartoons simply because most of the media companies have chosen not to reprint/display the cartoons! There are enough websites out there (including this blog) which are carrying the images in all their funny, silly, satirical glory! Surely, the richest and most popular search engine in the world should not find it so difficult to index and display these images? 

Repeating the search including omitted results barely helps. One or two cartoons seem to have sneaked in here and there.

If Google has indeed deliberately suppressed displaying the cartoons, this would be a huge blow to Google’s reliability. On the other hand, if Google has not deliberately suppressed the cartoons, this is still a big blow to Google’s reliability because its search engine is not displaying one of the hottest items in international news these days!

Anyway, we shall do for you what Google couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do!

Update on Feb 15th, 2006: I am glad to report that Google does not seem to have censored its results after all. At the time of originally publishing this post, some of the cartoons appeared in Google image search results only when repeating the search including omitted results. They did not appear in normal search. Now these same cartoons appear in the top 20 results of the normal search. End of Update.

We shall show you the holy cartoons published in The Jyllands-Posten newspaper of Denmark:

Prophet Mohammed Cartoons

Google can identify you!

January 31, 2006

Adam Fields has received unambiguous answers to a couple of very specific questions in More specific Google tracking questions:

1) “Given a list of search terms, can Google produce a list of people who searched for that term, identified by IP address and/or Google cookie value?”

2) “Given an IP address or Google cookie value, can Google produce a list of the terms searched by the user of that IP address or cookie value?”

The answer to both of them is “yes”.

Note that it is not necessary for you to be signed into your Google account or explicitly give Google consent to store information about your search activity and your IP address.

We may ask of what use it is to store IP addresses, if personal information – such as our names and home addresses – are not stored. Adam Fields answers that question in very concise and clear terms in What’s the big fuss about IP addresses?:

  • Have you ever searched for your name? Your IP address is now a key to your name in a log somewhere.
  • Have you ever ordered a product on the internet and had it shipped to you? Your IP address is now a key to your home address in a log somewhere.
  • Have you ever viewed a web page with an ad in it served from an ad network? Both the operator of the web site and the operator of the ad network have your IP address in a log somewhere, as a key to the sites you visited.

By the way, this last link about IP addresses is an excellent source for basic IP address fundas in layman’s terms.