Tag Archives: #Internet

The Internet Constitution: necessary?

Brazil’s novel and highly praised Marco Civil da Internet, essentially an Internet Constitution, has cleared the house and is becoming law. The new law addresses freedom, privacy, and net neutrality and has been in the works since 2009. The recent issues between the NSA and Brazil spurred Dilma to put the bill before the house, where it passed despite some backlash. Prior to the bill there were no specific rules about how ISPs (internet service providers) were required to hold and retain data. Now, the law requires ISPs to hold user data for six months, which will significantly change the practices of some ISPs who, when unregulated, held user data for numerous years. In addition, the law will ensure freedom of speech on the internet, a factor which has been exceedingly popular among the younger generation. Check out some other specifics about the bill here. 

So what does this have to do with ICT and our class? We’ve been discussing the web a lot recently, and it has increasingly become both a powerful mechanism to be used for development, but also a huge threat to national security, sovereignty, and freedom of speech. Especially after Snowden and the NSA occurrences, many nations are a little on edge, especially booming nations like Brazil. Taking steps which establish rules and regulations for things like privacy protection, freedom of speech, and neutrality is indicative of a nation which is both recognizing its erstwhile faults regarding the web and its usage, and taking the initiative to address those faults before they become the source of a national catastrophe. Establishing regulations for privacy on the Brazilian web will allow users a sense of security that Americans are now starting to question, despite having pre-existing rules (though perhaps not all followed) regarding these issues.

But what about developing countries who are leap-frogging to the internet age without time to develop precautionary and protective regulations or measures? These countries have been placed at a huge risk and will need to catch up fast in order to ensure the safety of their citizens and the privacy and security of their citizen’s information. It looks like this leap-frog will have to be followed by an even bigger leap-frog.

The New Cold War: Cybersecurity

On Tuesday, our class had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on cybersecurity. We talked about what exactly cybersecurity is and what kinds of things threaten our cyber safety. It became immediately apparent that there is a “dark side” to the technology that we have come to thrive off of and depend on. We discussed the concept of hacking and the many different ways that our data can be compromised without our knowledge. One thing that really resonated with me was our discussion of APTs, or Advanced Persistent Threats.

An APT is a set of stealthy and continuous hacking processes orchestrated by a group of people targeting a specific entity. APTs usually target organizations and or nations for business or political motives. There are entire military units devoted to this kind of Internet-enabled espionage. For example, APT1 is a term commonly used to refer to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army of China. They exist solely for this purpose. One of the first things that comes to mind is, “What are the ramifications?”, especially for a nation like the U.S. that relies so heavily on its data. Is our data safe? Are our networks secure?

In a recent article by Matt Sheehan of the Huffington Post, we can see that this is a growing concern. China has been making massive investments in United States technology, and the investments are only growing. For many, it may seem as though China is a little too close for comfort. We know they have the kind of technology to invade our networks, just as we have the technology to invade theirs. Is this becoming a modern day Cold War? Cybersecurity concerns could easily turn into Cyber Warfare. Traditionally, the United States’ economy welcomes this kind of foreign investment, but in the near future it will become increasingly important to exercise discretion, and to understand the potential consequences of giving our competitors a hand in our technological developments.

Cybersecurity in Developing Nations

Over the past few weeks we have discussed many new tools and programs designed to put more governmental information online to streamline processes. These programs have the potential to simplify and aid in development but they also come with their own set of problems. Cybersecurity is one of the most important issues of the new millennium.

The ITU has released an entire report about how developing nations need to upgrade their cyber-infrastructure. As these nations begin to put more and more governmental, financial, and secret data on to computer systems hackers and cyber-criminals have opportunities to steal this information. High profile attacks like on the Saudi Arabian oil company Arramco which affected more than 30,000 computers could be devastating to a developing nation. Cyber criminals can target government owned systems to steal data or digital currencies like M-Pesa to steal money from 1000s of miles away.

The ITU has released guidelines for developing nations to improve their security. Some of their recommendations include training the weakest part of the cybersecurity system, the user. The same skills gap that holds developing countries back in terms of digital knowledge also makes their existing systems more venerable to cyber threats. Inexperienced computer users are not worried about cyber threats and can take risky actions online. Poorly trained government workers can easily compromise sensitive government systems and allow hackers and other cybercriminals access to governmental data.

Over the next few years the success of eGovernment and eCurrency programs will be determined by the level of security they can provide for users. If developing countries cannot train their population to safely use technology many of the advances that technology can provide will be lost due to compromised security problems. Technology can help to improve the lives of people living in developing nations but if their governments do not invest in security infrastructure for their networks the same technologies that can help them develop can make them venerable to crime and cyberwarfare.


How does Farm Radio International Expand?

Farm Radio is a non-profit organization based out of Canada that works with radio broadcasters to help improve food security and certain modes of agriculture for small African farmers.  Here’s an example video of how to program works

After watching this video I understood the basics of how the Farm Radio program works to help farmers gain knowledge and information on crops and food that they would have not otherwise had in small parts of Africa.  The video did seem slightly puzzling as to who the audience was targeted towards.  It seems as though the target audience is for a very “dummed-down” English speaking individual that would be a potential donor.  If farmers in these rural parts of Africa don’t have the technology to understand information about the crops they are dealing with, then how would they be able to view this video that explains to them how Farm Radio International works in a simplistic manner. 

After looking over the Farm Radio International’s website it is shown that the organization works with a great deal of individuals across Africa.  It is great to see that the organization realizes the technological capacity that is present in Africa, with 76% of African farmers with access to a radio set and only 3% with access to Internet.  My only question here is how does Farm Radio International expand to reach a larger population in a continent in which food is so scarce.

 Here’s the link to their website: http://www.farmradio.org/

Technology: Scary or Empowering

In class we have been discussing different technologies and how important it is to give the developing world access to all these technologies that make our lives better. This refers to the digital divide, the technological gap between countries that have fully exploited ICT and those that have not. We spoke about why these gaps existed and broke the reasons up into groups: access, skill, policy and motivation. We discussed how access could mean whether or not the hardware existed anywhere near you, and how skill refers to the technological skill level of the user, and if they had access if they would be able to figure it out.  Policy is another aspect because there are countries that do not have an enabling environment. The last aspect of the digital divide, motivation, was the most interesting to me. This aspect covers people’s desire for new technologies. In many cases residents have no interest in new technologies and are content in the way they have been living.

While reading and discussing the motivation aspect of the digital divide, I wondered if forcing new technologies on people who found them irrelevant or had no motivation to use them was that important. I wondered if that was the case in most developing countries. Were we bombarding these people and their cultures? In this Microsoft blog , the author talks about a study done by Microsoft where they surveyed over 10,000 internet users in 10 nations. In the majority of the countries, developing countries included, the people saw the use of personal technology as a type of empowerment. India believes that technology is even improving health care, and education. Brazil, as well, embraces new technologies and believes it has impacted both art and culture. These countries, for the most part, agree that technology especially personal technology is improving their quality of lives as well as empowering them. Though this does not cover all developing countries, or the different opinions of rural versus non-rural places, it is reassuring that a lot of people want, and embrace new technologies.

Can Technology Help Brain Development?

In class this week we had a discussion about the differences in how each generation uses and understands technology. I made a point about younger people being raised around technology and the effect that could have had on brain development or why we understand technology more. I thought this was an interesting idea and I wanted to know more, so I decided to do some research. I found many articles on the negative impacts that technology has on developing children. Most of these articles look fairly similar to this article from Huffington Post. The author explains, “diagnoses of ADHD, autism, coordination disorder, developmental delays, unintelligible speech, learning difficulties, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate.”

While I understand that technology overuse can have troubling consequences on developing minds and bodies, I felt there had to be an article somewhere that pointed to the benefits of technology. Then I came across this article about research being conducted at UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The article refers to a “brain gap” between young “digital natives” and older “digital immigrants”. Dr. Gary Small, director of the Memory and Aging Research Center, explains that “’digital natives’ — young people born into a world of laptops and cell phones, text messaging and twittering — spend an average of 8 1/2 hours each day exposed to digital technology. This exposure is rewiring their brain’s neural circuitry, heightening skills like multi-tasking, complex reasoning and decision-making.” As a consequence, however, the overuse of technology takes away from time that could be spent developing people skills. Digital immigrants, on the other hand, were born into a world without the Internet and must work harder to navigate technology “without the already-developed brain form and function”. Luckily, the brain is an amazing phenomena that is still trainable at any age. Dr. Small pointed to a recent study that examined the effects of Internet searching on brain activity in subjects between the ages of 55 and 76, with only half of them being experienced in Internet searching. Using MRI technology to scan the subjects’ brains while googling, “researchers found that the brains of the Web-savvy group reflected about twice as much activity compared to the brains of those who were not Web-savvy”. Dr. Small believes that technology could be extremely useful in helping aging brains stay sharp and maintain vital functions. As technology continues to weave into all facets of daily life, research like this could be extremely useful in helping us to understand and harness the benefits of technology.

From Small Local Business to Internet Success Story

Earlier today, an article was posted on SBWire about January’s Small Business of Month named by ITNow Magazine. It is a flower company based on San Jose, Costa Rica called For del Este, but has received this award and others like it based on its website and e-commerce success in CostaRicaFlores.com. The small business owner, Lorena Delgado, noticed that there was a declining market for this local business for a multiplicity of infrastructural and economic reasons. To revamp her business, she contacted a web marketing an development firm called MiWeb, whose CEO “proposed a service for Flor del Este that included developing an online presence, marketing the e-commerce website and providing digital analytics.” From this, Flor del Este has seen 80 straight months of continued growth and has won a few awards for this successful ICT venture.

It is interesting to me that a small local business with an owner who lacks”tech-savvy” skills simply made a promotion and e-commerce website that completely changed the business, for his instance for the better. Clearly, she has access to contacts, a computer, the Internet, and other necessary IT components for this project, but is still in a country where many others around her might not have that luxury. I question how the audience shifts after this Internet venture took hold of the company, and if that change expanded profit margins in addition to providing growth. Local business like Flor del Este often cater to their local audiences. But CostaRicaFlores.com had the capacity to change that and create a new economic culture of the business.

To us, especially here in the United States, creating a website is a staple not only for business, large and small, but for essentially an venture people wish to promote. The Internet is less to a tool we utilize and more of a necessity for most business and entrepreneurial ventures. Yet, in other countries and for other business, like Flor del Este, creating a website and using cyber space for advertising and commerce is not automatic. As opposed to starting the business off with this ICT phenomenon embedded in the initial infrastructure of the business, such technologies are added and then integrated into the business. This is a very clear example of the digital divide we have been discussing: the difference between initial access and delayed access to technology, in this case between the formation of a website.

Referenced Article: http://www.sbwire.com/press-releases/how-a-local-business-goes-global-costaricaflorescom-named-small-business-of-the-month-after-national-it-award-win-446257.htm

How Much does the Digital Divide Affect Global Economics?

In two words: a lot. And it will only get worse until the Divide is bridged.  This article from Time Magazine explores the relationship between economic growth and cheap and reliable access to the internet. The bottom line is that when economies, be they rural or national, have limited and unreliable access to the internet, they are missing out on an entire economic sector at a high cost. In the past two decades we have witnessed the rise of the digital economy, whose commerce now accounts for up to 10% of some nation’s entire economies (like the U.K)- much to the chagrin of nations where access to that economic sector is limited by poor infrastructure, government instilled firewalls, or other forms of red tape.

Here I see a clear example of a paradox of the developing world: the digital economy could provide numerous benefits to developing nations (such as internet based jobs, world-wide communication, online education, and readily available information and advice on health/hygiene) and yet those same nations who could benefit so much are those with the least access to such an economy. This leaves developed nations with free speech and excellent infrastructure to dominate the digital commerce market, stymying growth and employment elsewhere.

We can take this concept and apply it to say, Brazil. Brazil in this sense represents both the developing and the developed world. In its metropolitan cities of Rio de Janeiro, São paulo, and Brasilia, the internet is widely used for commerce, media and net-based employment (like banking, translation services, etc.). However drive two hours into the rural interior and suddenly cell phone service becomes inexistent, let alone internet, leaving the towns and small cities of the interior at the dark bottom of the Divide while large cities are consistently seeing growing facets of their economies becoming reliant on the internet.  So what’s the solution? It depends. If you live in a nation with the infrastructure and capabilities to have a strong internet based economy but are experiencing digital oppression by government policies (like China) the solution becomes political- making sure that governments are aware of the reasons why limiting internet usage is bad for economic growth. For the rest of the developing world its about bridging the Divide and creating a fair playing field where access to the benefits of internet commerce is available to all.

One Unprotected? Laptop Per Child

As if we didn’t cover them enough in class, the One Laptop Per Child program has some major flaws. However, one glaring flaw of the program is its complete non-mention of safety guards for children on the internet. This article specifically sites that one of the OLPC leaders admitted that safety had been overlooked. Let that sink in. When creating a program to help children in developing countries what was overlooked?  Durability? No. Language Barriers? Of course not. Safety?…Oops.


Kids enrolled in the OLPC program and given the only semi user-friendly laptop are given the internet access with not only no previous exposure to the internet/internet culture, but no background in internet safety. In schools all across the U.S.A. children are taught in middle school about the dangers of chatrooms, giving out your personal information and meeting strangers online. When children in the OLPC program encounter these threats without previous knowledge of not only how to deal with them but the fact that a 40 year old man saying he wants to be “special friends” is in fact a threat!! This is not to say that “stranger danger” is a uniquely western concept, but the idea of internet safety should not be. Introducing internet services without safety training is introducing a new realm of threats for the children using these laptops and leaving them woefully unprepared.


Unfortunately, the OLPC leader did not say anything with regards to fixing the blatant incorporation of child safety in the program.


R4D: Radio for Development

Radio is the most effective ICT in the developing world.  People don’t realize the importance of radio communication in the developing world. First world countries’ residents are accustomed to the Internet and often forget that billions of people living in remote rural communities around the world don’t have access to it. While browsing the Internet and reading about the critical role of radio communication in developing nations, I found a blog called ‘Radio for Development.’ The blog (http://goo.gl/d1eynT) is maintained by Sam Coley – Senior Lecturer and Radio Degree Leader at Birmingham City University, UK. It contains a series of blog posts that describe radio-related development projects, mostly in Africa. What I like the most about the blog is that the content is very short and to the point. Most blogs entries also contain a short video that complements the entry. I strongly recommend everyone to read all of the blog’s posts. My favorite entry is about the South Africa bush radio project .