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April 16th, 2012 GOOGLE none Comments

Threats range from governments trying to control citizens to the rise of Facebook and Apple-style “walled gardens”, says tech billionaire.

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned that there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world. I am more worried than I have been in the past . . . it’s scary.”

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He said the threat to the freedom of the internet came from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry attempting to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” so-called walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly controlled what software could be released on their platforms.

Eyes on the future ... Google co-founder Sergey Brin tries a pair of the company's internet-connected glasses at a function in San Francisco earlier this month.
Eyes on the future … Google co-founder Sergey Brin tries a pair of the company’s internet-connected glasses at a function in San Francisco earlier this month.
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The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled anti-semitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks.

He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long but he had been proven wrong: “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”

Although he said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, he also warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and Balkanising the web.

“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Brin’s criticism of Facebook is likely to be seen as controversial with the social network approaching an estimated $US100 billion flotation. Google’s upstart rival has seen explosive growth, with more than 800 million members worldwide and one in two of all Americans with computer access signed up.
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Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive. The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules that will stifle innovation.”

He also criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years.”

Brin’s comments come amidst an intensifying battle for control of the internet that is being played out across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From Hollywood’s attempts to pass legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and world wide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.
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In China, which now has more internet users than any country in the world, the government recently introduced new “real identity” rules in a bid to tame the country’s boisterous micro-blogging scene. In Russia there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere that was blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin’s warning: “We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.”

The outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government’s attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. “In the long run they must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.”

Brin said he was not surprised by the effectiveness with which China had so far managed to create a technological barrier against the outside world. “I’m more surprised by the acceptance . . . I had imagined people would be more rebellious.”

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Amid mounting concern over the militarisation of the internet and claims (denied by Beijing) that China has mounted numerous cyber-attacks on US military and corporate targets, he said it would be hugely difficult for any government to defend its online “territory”.

“If you compare the internet to the physical world, there really aren’t any walls between countries. If Canada wanted to send tanks into the US there is nothing stopping them and it’s the same on the internet: it’s hopeless to try to control the internet.”

He reserved his harshest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.
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He said the SOPA and PIPA bills championed by Hollywood and the music industry would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate that people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like, it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy.”

Brin acknowleged that some people were anxious about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.

He said: “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great . . . We’re doing it as well as can be done.”
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Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

The billion dollar deal in under 2 years

App Instagram success team


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California has been famous since the gold rush for creating fortunes overnight. The Golden State was a dream factory for get-rich-quick schemes from pioneers with pickaxes to beautiful people aiming to be Hollywood stars.

But only in Silicon Valley can a couple of 20-somethings turn 551 days, or 78 weeks, of work into a $US1 billion fortune.

Kevin Systrom, 28, joined the long line of technocrats turned plutocrats on Monday in the US when he sold Instagram, a profitless photo-sharing app that’s less than two years old, for $US1 billion.

Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom.
Instagram co-founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom. Photo: codypickens.com

He sold it to that other wunderkind, Mark Zuckerberg, 27, the Facebook founder whose social network is now worth an estimated $US100 billion.

Systrom, a former Google employee, is understood to own about 40 per cent of Instagram, which is now worth $US400 million.
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His co-founder Mike Krieger, 25, is believed to have about 10 per cent, worth $US100 million. The rest will be shared with investors and the company’s other employees – all 11 of them.

Even by Silicon Valley standards, it’s a remarkable haul for a company that has been around for less than two years.

If Facebook had been paying Instagram from the start it would work out that Instagram was making roughly $US1.8 million a day from the social networking giant, or $US12.7 million a week.

Instagram was not the first, or the only, mobile app offering people a way to share their photos on Twitter, Facebook or Flickr. Nor was its use of filters to add visual effects to those shots a new idea. But what made it stand out was its success.

Last week Instagram raised $US50 million from venture capital firms, valuing Systrom and Krieger’s baby at $US500 million. Zuckerberg had reportedly already approached Systrom and asked to buy the firm but, after the funding, he came back with an offer that could not be refused: double the price.
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Instagram might not make a cent but it is the hottest mobile app in the world and Facebook is preparing for the biggest IPO in tech history.

To date people have questioned Facebook’s mobile strategy. Zuckerberg started his social network in the days when PCs and browsers ruled the internet. Even 20-somethings can look a bit dated in these fast moving days. And $US1 billion is a small price to pay for new school cool, if you are worth $US100 billion.

Systrom, a Stanford University graduate like so many Silicon Valley multimillionaires, grew up in Boston but was an early witness to the dotcom boom. His mother, Diane Systrom, worked at Monster.com during the first internet era and is now an executive at Zipcar, the online car rental business.

The history of the billion-dollar deal goes back to his university days where he was studying for an engineering degree. Systrom, a big photography fan, started looking at ways to share photos online. His interest subsided as he looked for a job, ending up at Google, where he spent two years in product and corporate development.

Systrom’s next job was at Nextstop, a trip-recommendation site that Facebook bought for a rather measly $US2.5 million.
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Systrom then started Burbn, named after his favourite liquor, a company that focused on the super-hot area of mobile but whose basket of services seemed to lack any clear identity. It had photos but also check-in capabilities, such as Foursquare, and other apps.

Along came Krieger, another Stanford graduate, and the two started talking about narrowing their focus.

On the Q&A site Quora, Systrom explained the genesis of Instagram: “We decided that if we were going to build a company, we wanted to focus on being really good at one thing.

“We saw mobile photos as an awesome opportunity to try out some new ideas. We spent one week prototyping a version that focused solely on photos. It was pretty awful. So we went back to … Burbn. We actually got an entire version of Burbn done as an iPhone app, but it felt cluttered, and overrun with features.

“It was really difficult to decide to start from scratch, but we went out on a limb, and basically cut everything in the Burbn app except for its photo, comment, and like capabilities. What remained was Instagram. (We renamed because we felt it better captured what you were doing – an instant telegram of sorts. It also sounded camera-y.)”

The rest is Silicon Valley history. Launched in October 2010, Instagram was an instant hit. More than 30 million people have downloaded the app now. When the firm launched an Android version this month, it attracted 1 million downloads in 12 hours. People love sharing their photos online and making them look like their dad took them in 1980 with a camera he borrowed from his dad.

And the app they want to do it with is Instagram.
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Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha