Vint Cerf: Censorship a “very slippery slope”

The Sydney Morning Herald has an Q&A with Google chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf in which he is asked about censorship. Long and interesting excerpt follows:

Is censoring something you would advocate?

I don’t think so and part of the reason is it’s very, very difficult to literally manage the content of the internet because it comes from literally everywhere.

The internet is designed to be a very technically open environment, so what I frankly believe has to happen is two things. First, deeper education so people understand the consequences of abuse; the second one may, in fact, be legal frameworks in which really antisocial behaviour can be dealt with.

A related issue to the question of Google’s responsibility for what goes up on its sites is the issue of security and privacy, which have cropped up with the launch of products like Google Earth and Google Maps. Has it been a surprise that you’ve taken some flak over these issues?

I don’t think we necessarily anticipated any of this and it’s partly because the information that is put up on, for example, Google Earth comes from public sources. We don’t have any special sources. We don’t fly satellites of our own. The information is available to the public.

In some cases it’s free and in some cases we have to pay for it, and we don’t alter anything. There was an exchange that took place in India [last month] and there was some confusion about that. So far as I’m aware, and I double-checked with the Google Earth team, we do not alter any of the images we get. So if there’s something obscure about them, that’s because it’s just the way they came.

Google does understand, though, that there are some consequences of having ready access to this kind of information, and we’re ready to sit down and talk with governments that might have some concerns.

It’s not as if we’re ignorant of the hazards. On the other hand, I would suggest that any time you seek censorship you introduce a very slippery slope because then it becomes a case of who decides what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and how far do you go in this and does it become political, and does it become religious, does it become mere opinion or ideology, and is that the kind of society that we want to live in?

That last paragraph is most eloquent. Well put, Vint.

Skyline patent infringement suit agains Google Earth dismissed

Yesterday evening local time, a judge at the US District Court of Massachusetts dismissed the patent infringement suit brought by Skyline Software Systems against Keyhole Inc. back in 2004. Google inherited this suit when it bought Keyhole later on in 2004. (Google Earth is the result of that purchase.)

There is one syndicated AP story out there about this, and it is a gem of concise reporting.

Implications? Not much, I think. When lawsuits demand an injunction against the use of a popular piece of technology, be it Google Earth or Blackberry, there is always a small risk of large consequences. That shadow has now been lifted for Google Earth. Just maybe, the dismissal of this suit is a prerequisite for further development or cooperation. We’ll see. Also, no word on whether this is appealable.

(This is what happens when news breaks at 2am Cairo time — you sleep through it:-)

Links: KML resumé, Antarctic Digital Database, AGX mashups

  • Ozgur Alaz puts his resumé up as a KML file. Gizmodo spots it. Ozgur hits the big time. It’s an interesting idea, but I am not convinced that the location of a particular job is its most important attribute.
  • ADD is short not just for a bloggers’ disease but also for the Antarctic Digital Database, which has now made its downloadable geospatial data available in KML format. You have to register, but registering is free. The database contains heaps of georeferenced measurements taken on Antarctica. Just choose your data layers with care, or you may end up downloading huge files. (Hosted by the British Antarctic Survey)
  • Jeremy Cothran writes:

    Wanted to mention that the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) is providing their latest observations data using WFS (Web Feature Service) and GML standards. Details here.

    While I’d still like to see something simpler evolve native to KML like ObsKML, it’s nice to see federal agencies moving in an xml direction with stronger content standards.

  • GolfTraxx tries a similar incentive plan as the one Google is using with 3D models of university campuses:

    GolfTraxx offers a course mapping guide through which golfers can quickly and easily map their favorite courses using Google Earth, then submit the Google Earth .kml file to GolfTraxx for addition into the GolfTraxx on-line database and credit towards free GolfTraxx gear.

  • Here’s hoping that Google CEO’s Eric Schmidt’s comment yesterday that Google and Apple are collaborating on “many more” new projects means that we can see some serious geospatial savvyness in OS X 10.5. iPhone + Google Maps is a nice start, but a GPS-enabled tablet with Google Earth would be nicer.
  • Location Based Soup promises one ESRI ArcGIS Explorer mashup per month for a year, and delivers the first one. This should make it easier for the rest of us to try out ESRI ArcGIS Explorer in a real-world scenario…
  • Map overlays of skiing stations in Switzerland, anyone? This links to a collection of KML overlays from publicly available maps. Makes you want more, better, 3D… (Thanks for the heads up to Rocco, who made it)

And then there were two (KML editors)

This time last week, no KML editors in English. Today, there are two:

KMLEditor, the Japanese language editor profiled a few days ago, now has English localization. Download it here.

KMLEditor_en.jpg

NorthGates’ KML Editor is a brand new entry, which you can download here.

northgates.jpg

Check out both. KMLEditor seems to have more features — for example, support for time — but it is early days yet. Anyone up for making a Mac version? (Via comments)

Ice Ice, baby

Last week saw the launch of International Polar Year, a global effort by thousands of scientists from around 60 countries to research the polar regions in a special coordinated effort. Planning has been ongoing for years, but as luck would have it, concerns about global warming have hit the limelight just as IPY gets going — and the polar regions are the canary in the coalmine of climate change.

Last week, too saw a number of new KML offerings focusing on the poles and on ice-covered regions — the cryosphere. First up is the wholly revamped page listing the KML files of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Go there to find historical sea ice extents, glaciers with then-and-now photos, permafrost extents, and georeferenced images of Antarctica.

EarthSLOT’s Matt Nolan and a team have been working to put a lot more IPY resources on the map as a Google Earth layer. The result is this KML file, still in beta, and with plenty more stuff to come. As it stands now, the file contains a great georeferenced introduction to IPY, as well as a country-sorted georeferenced list of all IPY-endorsed scientific projects. Expect it to grow too during the next two years, as the results of IPY endorsed projects start to become available.

Finally, to mark the launch of IPY on March 1, the IPY team did something fun with Tagzania — schools from around the world were invited to conduct an ice-related experiment in class, and then launched a “virtual balloon” — which looks remarkably similar to a Google Maps marker:-) — which showed up on the site, and of course on Google Earth too:


IPY tagged map – Tagzania

This map is also the first to use a new feature for embedded maps, which allows you to place up to 200 most recent tagged placemarks — previously, the maximum was 25, but Tagzania’s Luistxo and co. saw this a great opportunity to introduce a new feature.

And all this just in the first week of IPY:-)

Links: Oz scaremongering, KML Editor (in Japanese)

  • I don’t believe it. Here we go again. The Melbourne Herald Sun tries the “Google Earth is a threat” tack, managing to get every fact in the next two paragraphs wrong;

    This contrasts with US authorities, which sought modification of images of the White House and other sensitive locations, leading to temporary shading blocks being placed to obscure some aspects of buildings.

    Britain also sought the blotting out of potential terrorist or military targets, including its Government Communications Headquarters, the Faslane nuclear submarine base, and the Fairford airfield used by U2 spy planes.

    (The only bit the UK government managed to erase was its bases in basra). Australia last featured on this blog in August 2005, when the head of Australia’s nuclear energy agency wanted to censor the imagery in Google Earth of that country’s only nuclear reactor, only to be overruled by cooler heads in the federal government. The imagery stayed as it added no danger.

  • If you speak Japanese and have a PC, KML Editor does precisely what its name suggests. I’m surprised nothing like this has come out in English — Google Earth’s own KML editing features are rudimentary, and do not let you access many of KML’s extended feature set, including its styling abilities. That would appear to be an obvious business opportunity.

0303_2.jpg

Notes on the political, social and scientific impact of networked digital maps and geospatial imagery, with a special focus on Google Earth.