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The difference between politics *on* the net, and the politics *of* the net

5339417741_6a54da4db7_zWhen I meet people offline and they hear I write a blog that relates to the EU, and that I am active debating politics on Twitter, they very often ask me about issues such as data protection and net neutrality and what the European Union is doing about these things. Questions of this nature arise most often in Germany where the debate about Netzpolitik (structured in part by the famous blog of the same name) – the politics of the net – is fierce.

The thing is that the politics of the net is not my thing, or at least not in a particularly central way. I know what net neutrality is, and why is is important, but I am not heavily engaged in advocacy for it, or in working out the best technological way it could be ensured. I have my own concerns about data protection, and do what I can to be aware of my own data footprint. But I am not manning the barricades shouting Datenschutz!

Instead the politics on the internet is my thing. How does the internet shape our political systems? Our political parties? Our campaigns and causes? How can it be used from everything from helping a candidate to campaign to working out how patient views can be better heard in the healthcare system? Can the internet be effectively used to debate everything from transport policy to social care? Can it help drive up turnout in elections, or – through open data – even help deliver better government services? At the most basic level the internet changes the relationship between the governors and the governed, between politicians and people, and that is deeply fascinating.

Politics on the net is hence not the same as the politics of the net. Die Politik im Netz ist nicht das gleiche wie die Netzpolitik.

(and yes, of course there are some overlaps (net neutrality could promote better debate for example) but the basic point stands – politics on the net, and the politics of the net are not the same things)


Switching from iOS to Android (Fairphone) – Part 1

At the start of the summer I realised I needed to make some changes to the technology I use. This was motivated by my 2008 iMac, 2009 MacBook Pro, and 2009 iPhone 4S all not being as snappy and fast as they used to be. This led me to a series of reflections about the technology that I use, and what to do about it. I concluded I did not have enough money for new computers, so put a SSD drive into my MacBook Pro to speed it up (details on how to do this here – it’s highly recommended!), and will do the same to my iMac soon.

But what about the phone? Even the iPhone 6 that has just been released is not a major step forward. To all intents and purposes it’s a faster and larger iPhone 4S. So I started to look around for alternatives… My decision was to switch to Android, and – for ethical reasons rather than performance reasons – to buy a Fairphone. It is a middle of the range Android phone where parts and metals are fairly sourced, and workers treated fairly too – more about it here. The increasing lock-in enforced by Apple over its iOS devices was another reason to look elsewhere (this lock-in is not yet so pernicious on Mac OS).

fairphone

The challenge then comes: how the hell do I, someone who has relied so heavily on Apple products for so long, some to terms with a new operating system? And, while I am at it, how do I avoid jumping out of the clutches of Apple and straight into the ever deeper clutches of Google (who are behind Android)? I have also made sure not to give Google my credit card details – I’ve used a €25 pre-paid card for the Google Play store to pay for the few apps that were not free.

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Ad-hoc live streaming

I’m currently broadcasting OK Festival here, because the wifi in the room is not working and hence I have needed to improvise. Here is the stream:

So how am I doing it?

I am using the iOS app Bambuser for the live stream, and streaming this over 3G via Congstar‘s network in Berlin. I can then embed the code here, or anywhere else.

kit

The film is from the phone camera on my iPhone 4S. Bambuser drains the battery quite fast, so my phone is connected to my Solarmonkey Adventurer Battery Charger to keep it at 100%, and the phone is mounted on a GripTight GorillaPod.

And that’s about it! :-)


A life without Google. It’s harder than you think.

2568436053_a9734f5d0d_zSo I am in China for a week. I will write about the wider politics of the place when my time here draws to a close, but for now I will focus on just one aspect: what China’s block on Google tells us… about our use of Google.

China blocked access to Google services before the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen uprising, and it seems that things have not improved since. On my laptop I can access no Google services through my web browser at all. The only thing that works is Gmail via IMAP (web interface is also blocked). Twitter and Facebook are also blocked, but I do not actually need those as urgently, or they are not as central needs. Dropbox not working is a pain, but for a week I can live without it, as I use it mostly for my own files anyway.

So I can live without Google Search, right? Indeed that’s actually the easiest part. I have added DuckDuckGo to my browser and it works fine. Bing.com is just about passable if I need it. The interesting thing here is how I have become so used to browser address bar search – after years of doing just that, going to a website for search felt really odd.

The next challenge was maps. I have used nothing but Google Maps for a good few years, so what’s the best bet for a replacement? Turns out that the search on Bing Maps is rubbish unless you use the Chinese characters. So here Apple Maps (and indeed the Maps app in Mac OS that I’d even forgotten existed) has turned out to be a fair substitute.

Then what about calendars? I use Google Calendars for a bunch of collaborative projects (I don’t use these for my own use), so those I will have to live without for now. Were I to be in China more often I would have to find an alternative, as would businesses doing China – non China collaborations.

fontsapis

Then, to my surprise, there is Google’s Font APIs that are increasingly heavily used, even in open source software – including WordPress that powers this blog. Yes, pages will load without these fonts, but browsers keep on trying to load the APIs, and slow down the loading of pages.

Last but not least, and rather central when in China as I do not speak Mandarin, is Google Translate, which is also built into my browser. Baidu’s translation tool is useless as its interface is just in Mandarin (unless I am missing something), so Pons is basically my only option.

So the conclusion is this: while Google makes the argument that provision of web services is a free market, and that anyone can switch to alternatives, we nevertheless find ourselves so dependent on Google as a matter of habit that those habits are damned hard to break.


a-rival SpoQ on a Mac – a low cost GPS running watch

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 09.44.16I seldom blog about sport, but that does not mean it is not important to me. You’ll find me out running two or three times a week, and going for long skating trips in the summer time. I used to measure all these workouts with a Garmin GPS watch (as a skater I need a GPS solution, rather than something based on paces), but recently lost the old watch.

So what should I use instead?

The a-rival SpoQ, for €92 on Amazon, seemed a possible alternative – cheaper than the low end Garmin watches, and with a larger display showing more parameters than the Garmin equivalents. The only problem: out of the box it is only supported on Windows computers. I managed to find this post in German on a running forum to determine whether a Mac solution was possible, bought the watch, and hence here – in English – explain my experience.

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Is it really impossible to delete an Evernote account?

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 14.12.23

I’m doing a bit of online spring cleaning this week. Old accounts with services I no longer use are being closed for good. It’s not necessarily a critique of these services as such, but I think that if I am no longer using a service it’s better I close the account.

Only with Evernote you cannot close your account, at least not properly, and that worries me.

The screenshot above is for the closest Evernote has to an account deletion page – but it actually describes a permanent account deactivation, rather than a deletion, and it is also a deactivation without the prospect of reactivation. Yeah, so I can prevent myself from ever having access to the account again, but Evernote still has access to all my data, indefinitely? That strikes me as a major failure.

Googling around further leads me to this Evernote support page in German (I can’t get an English version as Evernote sees I have a German IP address and thinks I therefore definitely need German language support, and doesn’t allow me to change language either from a menu or changing the URL – a further usability failure) that tells me that I need to delete each note I have saved separately, change my e-mail address listed at Evernote to one I may never then need for an account in future, and then to deactivate my account. However here too I have no idea what data, as a user, Evernote still has stored about me. And does a note deletion really mean it is deleted? Or only from my list of documents?

Now of course there must be caveats to this – if I had shared notes with others, or others had shared them with me, there must be a way to deal with this when an account is deleted. But that must be eminently solvable. As it is currently, from the user point of view, this entire process leaves a lot to be desired!


If you want one of the placeholder Twitter accounts I’ve registered, here are a few things to bear in mind

I was an early adopter of Twitter, and have been using it for political purposes ever since. Throughout that time I have conducted all sorts of experiments with Twitter, and registered dozens of Twitter usernames for numerous purposes over the years.

One of these experiments was to make unofficial accounts for all Danish government ministries on Twitter, back in April 2013. These accounts were all automated, tweeted news from the Ministries, and clearly stated in the biographies that the accounts were unofficial.

Something has recently started to change in Denmark though, as 4 Ministries have contacted me in the last few weeks to ‘officialise’ their accounts. The first of these – Kulturministeriet @KUM_dk renamed to @Kulturmin – has now gone live.

The process to officialise the account was however far from ideal.

I received a stern e-mail from their Comms guy, telling me the account was a “problem” (why only now is this a problem, I answered, as the account has been tweeting for 12 months?) but agreed to hand it over to them. At no point in my e-mails exchanged with them was the word ‘thanks’ used once from their side, and the newly-renamed and officialised account has not tweeted anything about the process to say it is now official. I’ve delivered them a starter-following of 110 people, for free, and helped out. As I have made clear here I will of course not demand any payment if people want access to any of these accounts I happen to have registered.

Further, if they had been friendly towards me, I could have happily sent some of my 10000 followers towards them too. But no, by being unfriendly they can have this blog entry berating them instead.


How Neelie Kroes’s rant about Düsseldorf Airport wifi shows she really understands political social media

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 13.39.09I can just imagine the scene. Neelie Kroes is sat at Düsseldorf Airport waiting for her flight, tries to get online, and turns to Ryan Heath or Jack Schickler or some other member of staff travelling with her, and with that mix of steel and mischievousness in her eye she says something along the lines of “How dare they charge €6 for an hour of wifi? I’m not having that!”

Her experience is the sort of thing regular travellers encounter all the time. It’s surely also something that the other Commissioners capable of using a smart phone also have encountered. But unlike the rest of them, Kroes connects her everyday experience with the politics of the matter and actually seeks to do something. It’s the same sort of motivation that has driven dozens of blog entries and tweets of mine over the years.

She first tweeted this:

This has been retweeted 834 times at the time of writing, and covered by The Local and Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

She then follows it up with an effort to crowdsource good and bad experience:

No doubt the next step will be to write a blog entry with a kind of league table of the best and the worst. Of course this is non-legislative, but it is a political issue, and Kroes’s understanding of political social media connects all of the pieces together effectively. More Commissioners should follow her example.

[UPDATE 1820]
I’ve been pointed towards a WSJ Germany blog about the same subject, and there is also now a blog entry on Neelie’s blog that summarises the responses, very kindly also linking to this blog entry of mine.


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