Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts

Monday, September 29, 2014

I'll Just Google It

Everybody knows how to use Google to find information--right?  Wrong, according to Motoko Rich's article, "Academic Skills on Web Are Tied to Income Level," New York Times, Sept. 24, 2014, at A23.  A new study done by Donald J. Leu that appears in the current issue of Reading Research Quarterly (subscription required) showed "a general lack of online literacy among all students..."  Students may be adept at certain tasks (texting, posting photographs, using social media), but they are far less adept at tasks that require them to find and evaluate information.  This finding cuts across all income groups, but is most apparent in low-income students. 

Despite the higher rates of academic Internet use among the more affluent students in the study, a little more than a quarter of them performed well on tasks where they were required to discern the reliability of facts on a particular web page.  Only 16 percent of the lower-income students performed well on those tasks.
Many grade and high schools are not addressing digital literacy.  Perhaps this is because digital literacy is not a subject that is tested by standardized tests.  It could also be the result of teachers mistaking students' comfort with technology for actual ability to use the Internet for educational purposes. 
I was discussing this issue with one of the reference librarians this morning.  We have noted the poor quality of results that students get when they Google, how they rely on questionable sources rather than go to reliable sites maintained by educational institutions and organizations.  Her conclusion was that the librarians don't need to teach students how to Google; we need to teach them how to think.      

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Privacy and free browsers and e-mail providers

I've been reflecting on the Google case.  Anybody who thinks about the matter should conclude pretty quickly that you have to "pay" for the browser and e-mail some how or other.  And in the case of Google, you are paying by letting them suss out for their 3rd party advertisers what your interests are likely to be.  So Google wants to check your browsing habits to see what sites you are visiting.

Anybody who has looked up a question and suddenly noticed ads on the side bar that mirror the question matter has seen the results of the Google snooping ability.  This is especially weird for librarians, who are often looking up things we have no personal interest in. 

The same is apparently happening when you use their "free" Gmail e-mail service.  Again, they never announced this was the program, but I think a lot of users sort of figured there had to be some quid pro quo involved, and it had to do with the ads that make Google so rich.  The thing that is most unnerving about the revelations about Gmail is the depth of the "scanning." 

Alert readers may notice that the Blogger system on which this little blog appears is also powered by good ol' Google.  Can't say I'm feeling totally comfortable right now.  But I'm relying on the essential boring nature of my communications. 

Librarian camouflage?

The camouflage wedding dress above (wow!), is courtesy of a temporarily unavailable website,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Google Settles Streetview Privacy Invasion Suit with 38 State AGs

The New York Times has a lengthy article detailing the settlement and background of a lawsuit by 38 states' attorneys general against Google for privacy violations in connection with its Streetview recording of homes and streets.  It was not the actual images of houses that got Google into trouble.  The little Google cars and vans were doing more than just recording images of the roads and environs as they drove across the country building maps for Streetview.  They "data-scooped" from millions of unsecured wireless networks as they passed by!  Apparently, the idea was hatched by a single Google engineer, but he told others, and the news eventually reached the top of Google's hierarchy, who did nothing to stop it.  When the government began an investigation of the matter, it appears that Google tried to cover up the matter. (see the Wall Street Journal article closer to the scandal.)

The settlement is $7 million which is a pittance to Google, which evidently takes in $32 million per day (see the New York Times article, which notes this figure).  Google has had a long history of problems understanding respect for privacy as well.  See Scott Cleland's excellent blog post at Precursor blog about this. He not only includes a lengthy list of Google's history of privacy incursions, but also links or articles that include the 2010 and current Google statements on privacy, and the statement from the Connecticut Attorney General which announces the settlement.  This page includes two links which explain how to set up your wireless router for encryption to secure your network for privacy: 

Don't be evil, Google!  The image of a Google Streetview car with the equipment is courtesy of the Wikipedia Commons. It is labeled Google Street View car in Southampton, Hampshire, England.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Where to begin? Judges Gone Wild!

There are so many hot stories today:

The Supreme Court just announced its 5-4 decision on the Affordable Care (Health Care) law... ABC News site
and a PDF of the decision)
The firestorm of criticism over Justice Scalia's bitter dissent and announced diatribe following the Arizona Immigration decision... Toobin in The New Yorker is really mild, actually. What was surprising was when Judge Posner came out swinging on Slate!)

But what I figure there will be plenty of time to chew these over & lots of folks chewing... what really want to focus on is:

Judges Searching on the Internet

The Boston Globe ran an interesting story, both on its online Brainiac blog and eventually in its Sunday Ideas print section. The story, by Josh Rothman, is actually distilled from a scholarly law review article by Alison Orr Larsen, "Confronting Supreme Court Fact Finding," forthcoming in the Virginia Law Review. Apparently, Supreme Court justices, and judges at all levels are finding it nearly irresistible to pop onto the Internet to flesh out the information they are given in the briefs and arguments by the parties.

On the one hand, you can look at some of the online research as "taking judicial notice of publicly known facts." It's also fed by the way all law students and lawyers are taught to write. We feel the NEED to provide a citation to back up ALL our statements. So if a judge wants to say the sky is blue, he or she feels nearly compelled to find some authoritative-sounding statement somewhere to support that comment.

But it goes much farther than that. We all know -- especially librarians! -- how seductive it can be to do a little research.

But! This research is in such a different context. When statements and facts are suddenly being introduced, with no ability for parties to examine the source's:

1. Authority or accuracy -- nobody can cross-examine the "witness" when Judge X or Justice Z googles for some info!

2. Fairness -- no lawyer can stand up and object, "Your honor, that is prejudicial to my client, and filled with innuendo!" Just consider that this fact-finding amounts to evidence, and may be hearsay!

3. Impermanent Nature.... The webpage relied upon by Justice Z or Judge X may not look the same or even exist the next day when other justices or the parties want to go and look at it. Librarians and scholars of the Internet call this link-rot. And it is a very poor way to write an opinion, and especially unfair to the parties and to later courts and researchers who may not be able to locate the page at all or in the form that it was used for the decision.

The American Bar Association has actually provided quite an excellent opinion on the matter: Judicial Ethics and the Internet: May Judges Search the Internet in Evaluating and Deciding a Case? by David H. Tennant and Laurie M. Seal. The opinion goes into considerably more detail than this brief blog post. It also links the reader to the Ethics Rules, The Code of Conduct for United States Judges and the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct. None of these codes specifically mention searching the Internet, but the authors do pull out of the language and commentary some guidance on the matter that seems very helpful. The ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 3, for instance,
("A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently") The commentary to that canon states, "A judge must not independently investigate facts in a case and must consider only the evidence presented." This comment suggests that judges who obtain information from the Internet and apply the information in resolving factual disputes may be acting inappropriately
The authors also go on to alert the readers very helpfully that
The ABA Joint Commission to Evaluate the Model Code of Judicial Conduct has recently proposed a revision to the Model Code that more specifically restricts judges from accessing the Internet. The Commission's 2004 draft of the Model Code states within its rule 2.09 that "a judge shall not independently investigate facts in a case." The commentary to that rule provides as follows: "The prohibition against a judge investigating the facts of a case independently or through a member of the judge's staff extends to information available in all mediums including electronic access."
Note that I have removed some footnote references from within the text that I am presenting here, in order to make it easier to post to a blog. If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend following the link to the full report, which is excellent, and not overwhelming.

The illustration of the line of British judges in their new brilliant red robes and wigs marching in what looks suspiciously like a prisoner line is from a story in the Guardian

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Google & its Discontents

Google has announced a new privacy policy. They are working hard to get you to read it. If you have not read it, you should. And you should think about what it means. If you have a gmail account, if you have an Android phone, or keep a Google calendar, if you have an account with any of the other Google services, it means that the information from one account will be available across ALL of the other accounts. This article from the British Daily Mail does an excellent job of giving examples that help the reader see just how chilling the possibilities are. Google users have long been used to seeing ads for hotels pop up if they have been searching for information about another city. We have stopped worrying about it (though perhaps we should not!). But with the integration of all our accounts' information, those ads could now access information from our meetings calendar, our phone list, our profile, our GooglePlus "circles" and the data attached to those people in our lives.

Gizmodo has no doubts at all about this. Their blog post is titled "Google's Broken Promise: the End of Don't be Evil." They do a very nice job of contrasting previous privacy policies with the new one, to help make the profound shift more obvious.

What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs. And if you have signed up for Google+, odds are the company even knows your real name, as it still places hurdles in front of using a pseudonym (although it no longer explicitly requires users to go by their real names).

All of that data history will now be explicitly cross-referenced. Although it refers to providing users a better experience (read: more highly tailored results), presumably it is so that Google can deliver more highly targeted ads. (There has, incidentally, never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Google's Ad Preferences.)
Gizmodo explains that they consider Google to be going back on its promise to users, on which it built its multi-million dollar business, that it would always place its users' first. The new privacy policy does away with users' fine-grained control of their personal information that previous policy iterations upheld. However, Google does give users time to opt out, so pay attention!

And Google keeps wondering why their social media efforts keep falling flat!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A fun way to encourage students to improve Google search skills

I stumbled upon a cool way to encourage students (or anybody!) to buff up their Google search skills: A Google A Day! This summer, the Google Labs guys came up with this puzzle that pops up a new poser every day. There are multiple ways to solve each one, but only one right answer (does that sound familiar, research instructors???) But those who get stumped can click and get one suggested solution from Google, so there is a good clue there, too, a chance to learn if you can't get it on your own.

Because it's a puzzle, and light-handed, it might be a good way to get students to look at the excellent aids that Google puts out for users, and maybe get them to learn more about what's "under the hood" at their favorite web browser.

Google Basic Search Help

More Search Tips

Special Search Features (a lot of these are specialty things like weather, stock prices, earthquakes, but scroll down for more generally applicable things like using the + sign in your search to REQUIRE a particular word to appear in the results! That's especially helpful when you are wanting to search a phrase that includes a word like "and" that usually gets filtered out by search engines as being too common. A good example in law is "assault and battery." But you can also use it if your searches are popping up web pages that do not seem to include one of your terms. There are lots of other useful features, so keep checking this list.

And do not overlook the Search Tips Gallery, which used to be called Advanced Search. This gives you fill-in boxes to help you conduct more complicated searches. You can choose between searching Google Docs, a web search, Google Maps, or searching your Gmail, if you have an account for that.

Besides allowing their staff engineers and programmers to work on projects of their choosing, Google has another interesting way to develop new projects. Every summer, they select student programmers and engineers in a highly competitive system. This is called the Google Summer of Code. The students have made proposals of projects to work on, and release the code as open source for all to use. My daughter's programmer boyfriend was one such student programmer one summer. And I know of a library-intersection project that Google sponsored a few years ago, in 2007, that has resulted in one or more web-based cataloging applications (see Code{4}Lib post), and this post from the Disruptive Library Technology Jester.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Google Algorithms Modified to Sift out Dreck

Google is constantly tweaking its algorithms, hundreds of times a year, but most changes are so subtle that users cannot notice any changes. About 4 or 5 times a year, there will be a change that is large enough that users might notice. And this current change is actually being announced... That's because Google is running press conferences and blog posts about it. They wanted to improve Google's ability to rank the “best” websites. The Google engineers spent about a year trying to come up with a way to judge what makes a website high quality. Google defines quality as providing new, original content, as opposed to “content farms,” which produce lots of articles to draw readers to see ads, but may not actually have much useful or original content. I would be happy to have better results, with less of the website that you go to and find it's obviously set up just to trick you into visiting to notch up the “eyeball count.”

Google's Official Blog on February 24, 2011 posted “Finding more high-quality sites in search,” to announce the change.

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.

It’s worth noting that this update does not rely on the feedback we’ve received from thePersonal Blocklist Chrome extension, which we launched last week. However, we did compare the Blocklist data we gathered with the sites identified by our algorithm, and we were very pleased that the preferences our users expressed by using the extension are well represented. If you take the top several dozen or so most-blocked domains from the Chrome extension, then this algorithmic change addresses 84% of them, which is strong independent confirmation of the user benefits.
The Personal Blocklist Chrome extension is a new browser extension for Chrome that allows you to select websites to block so they no longer show up in Google results. From the comments at the site, it does not yet work for Google Image. It's nice to know that this Google tweak takes care of 84% of the sites that users are using the blocker to get rid of.

The article that alerted me to all this, by Barbara Ortutey, an Associated Press writer, but that appeared in the Boston Globe today, “New Google algorithms look for quality,” specifically singles out websites by Demand Media, such as I have actually used a number of eHow articles for various topics, such as how to force narcissus bulbs, and found them to be useful and better than some other websites on the same topic. But I certainly could see that an article on “How to Tie Shoelaces” might be pushing the limits. Basic shoelace tying is not a topic that lends itself well to a website demo, even with a video. The audience tends to be young enough that they need more hand-holding than a website is going to give. Though maybe fancy shoelace arrangements might be a sell – have you seen the shoe laces that go across like a ladder? I'd like to know how to lace those. The point is, that I am not sure that they are banging on the right door with that example, which seems to be Ortutey's idea, not Google's. It does not show up on either Google's Official Blog nor is it named at the Personal Blocklist Chrome site in any comment.

It's important to note that the change is rolling out first in the U.S., and will roll out elsewhere later.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Rupert Murdoch Takes a Stand

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, owner of the Wall Street Journal and The Times, among other newspapers, is a vocal critic of Google. He accuses Google of stealing content from newspapers and making it available through its search engine without any payment to the publisher. The Telegraph is reporting that in response to complaints from Murdoch and other publishers, Google has launched a new initiative--the First Click Free program--"that lets ... [Google] index website content but prevents Web surfers from having unrestricted access once they reach the online locales." Google now offers publishers the ability to "'limit users to no more than five pages per day without registering or subscribing.'" What this means is that "Google users may start seeing registration pages pop up when they click for a sixth time on any given day at websites of publishers using First Click Free ... ."

I understand that newspaper publishers have got to find a way to finance their expensive news operations. Our local newspaper for Westchester County has recently laid off forty staff members, and the story is the same at newspapers around the country. However, I think that charging for content is going to be a struggle. Users have become used to accessing information for free, and frankly don't care how it gets paid for. Murdoch has stated that newspapers "'need to do a better job of persuading consumers that high quality news and information does not come free.'" He is currently negotiating with Microsoft about making its Bing search engine the exclusive online source for content from Murdoch's newspapers. Will this content be enough to give Bing a competitive advantage over Google?