Archive for January, 2009


Jan 27 2009

Some Effects of Cultural Context

by at 10:33 am

Over on my reputation research blog, I wrote a long piece, mainly to do with Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “Outliers”.  I felt the post was also relevant for this blog because Gladwell talks about how cultural history affects modern-day events, design, and culture.

For instance, Gladwell writes that some Asian civilizations, being primarily rice-growers, approach problems the same way they grow rice.  Rice must be nurtured extensively, carefully grown, and constantly improved.  Wheat and corn growers, on the other hand, are not necessarily required to plant seeds perfectly spaced apart, to build perfect soil or mud/clay for the crop, or to spend lots of time maintaining the crops.  What Gladwell says is that rice-growing civilizations have been measured to spend more time thinking about a problem before giving up than wheat- or corn- growing civilizations.  They have more patience and determination to be good at things like math.

He also talks about how, until training accounted for the problem, Korean Air had a massive problem with communication among its pilots and first mates.  This led to a spate of crashes, and black box recordings showed that a cultural context where one does not question authority, and does not speak directly, instead using hints or suggestions, is not good for an industry where if the crew doesn’t make direct, well-communicated decisions, its plane will end up smashing into the ground.

So check out my post, and read Gladwell’s book.  It’s fascinating.  The premise is sort of what I’m hoping to get out of my research into how international values shape social networking sites within the context of privacy and identity.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Context,Culture

Jan 20 2009

Terrorists and Social Media

by at 7:48 pm

This is a departure from my previous inquiries, but after reading Gaurav’s around the clock coverage of the instances of citizen journalism in the Mumbai terrorist attacks this past November, I wondered if and how the terrorists used social media to plan for or perpetrate the attacks. And if it turns out that they did in fact use these new media, what are the implications for law enforcement and user privacy?

After poking around some public sources, it is clear that the terrorists were avid users of blackberries, voice over IP telephony, and email accounts to “keep abreast of the movements of the soldiers sent to stop them”, and to monitor “worldwide reaction to the events in Mumbai”.  Further, the Jewish Internet Defense Force identified a Facebook Page for Jamat-ud-Dawah (formerly known as Lashkar-e-Taiba). The dossier that Indian officials handed over to Pakistani authorities on January 7th details the use of the terrorists’ personal cellular phones, as well as the terrorists’ use of hostage/victim mobile phones. The dossier also includes intercepted sms messages detailing conversations between the terrorists.

The use of social media opens up a new problem set for authorities in how to regulate, monitor, or prevent the new web 2.0 platforms from being used as terrorist networks. Any solution will likely be controversial; even before social media became the rage,for instance, the US Congress in 2003, roundly condemned a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative to use existing mechanisms to track subversive activity, called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM), which was to be a “a market in the future of the Middle East”. PAM would have allowed trading of futures contracts based on possible political developments in several Middle Eastern countries. As wikipedia points out in a succinct summary of PAM: “The theory behind such a market is that the monetary value of a futures contract on an event reflects the probability that that event will actually occur, since a market’s actors rationally bid a contract either up or down based on reliable information.”

One of the most, if not the most sensitive issue for authorities will be that of privacy. My colleague Ben has written extensively on the issue of privacy on social networking sites in the context of BRIC countries. His work looks at the comparative sensitivities of users in these emerging economies, and the intersections with how people define identities in the virtual world. I wonder if privacy settings are going to change in the aftermath of events like the Mumbai attacks? In order to preempt, or prevent rogue actors, will the Indian government (and others) respond by monitoring citizen use of these new platforms? Or will certain forms of expression be censored all together?

What will the implication be for citizen journalists? As Gaurav points out, netizens were actively documenting the attacks on social services such as Twitter, Mahalo, Flickr, various blogs, and blog radios, among other media. There was also a rumor floating around that during the course of the attacks the Indian Government had asked for Twitter to be shut down, fearing that the terrorists were gathering intel on the authorities through user Tweets. While the dossier does not confirm or deny this, this begs the question of how the virtual world will be affected by terrorist attacks.

I will update this post as more is uncovered about the use of social media, but in the meantime, I look forward to your thoughts.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows

Jan 17 2009

The Link Between Mobile Penetration and Economic Growth

by at 10:47 pm

Mansi Tiwari in The Economic Times reports that a study titled ‘India: The impact of mobile phones,’ conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) has found a quantitative relationship between mobile penetration and economic growth —

Indian states with 10% higher mobile phone penetration will enjoy 1.2% higher annual average growth rate than those with a lower teledensity.

The real benefits of telecommunications only start when a region passes a threshold penetration rate of about 25%. Many areas have still not attained that level.

Delhi’s penetration rate is in excess of 100% but states such as Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Madhya Pradesh have not yet reached the critical 25% threshold.

In another study, London School of Economics professor Leonard Waverman had found that 10% extra mobile penetration may result in as much as 0.6% of additional GDP growth.

I’m sure that increased mobile penetration does lead to higher economic growth. However, the converse is even more true: more economically developed countries or states often have higher mobile penetrations. It’s easy to predict that higher mobile penetration will lead to higher economic growth; it’s more difficult to show how to increase penetration in the first place.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile | Tags: , , , , , ,

Jan 17 2009

The Confusion Over Growth Projections of the Worldwide Mobile Subscriber Base

by at 4:18 pm

The confusion over growth projections of the worldwide mobile subscriber base continues with eMarketer reporting projections ranging from 3.35 billion in 2013 (Frost & Sullivan) to 5.6 billion in 2013 (by Strategy Analytics). eMarketer’s own prediction is that there will be 4.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide in 2012.

As I had written before, the main reason for such variation in these projections is that most of the growth in the mobile phone subscriber base is expected to come from BRIC countries and analysts are not sure how quickly this growth potential will be realized.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

One response so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,BRIC,Gaurav Mishra,Mobile | Tags: , , , , ,

Jan 16 2009

Best Blogs in China, 2008 – Government Reactions, and more

by at 5:09 pm

Chinalyst, a portal for Chinese English Language blogs recently announced the winners of the 2008 Best China Blog competition. The overall winner was a blog entitled, Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui, a blog which is a collection of ruminations by an expat living in Shanghai. Voting was open for most of 2008, and the categories of blogs considered included Business and Law Blogs, News Blogs, Personal Blogs, Technology Blogs, and Travel Blogs.

After reading through several of these blogs, it is clear that the authors are a mix of foreigners living and working in China, as well as local Chinese writers. Moreover, the content ranges from the serious – critiques of the Chinese Government after recent reports of the increasing disparity between the urban and rural Chinese living conditions – to the not so serious  story about a Chinese female university student who dialed 110 (the emergency police number) to complain that her boyfriend would not warm her feet – and almost everything in between.

As I learn more about the different uses of the blogosphere in China as a tool for civil and consumer activism, the results are mixed. In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, authors seem to be free to comment on the blatant corruption that guanxi (personalized networks of influence and social relationships) enables in both politics and commerce. A top vote-getter for best General Blog in the Chinalyst competition even had a controversial feature on a Communist Party secretary of the Shenzhen Maritime Administration who physically forced an 11 year old girl into a restaurant bathroom (parts of which were captured on surveillance camera). While she fortunately escaped, the blogger’s coverage of this story along with the youtube video footage raised the ire of many Chinese netizens, who are calling for the party secretary’s head.

On the other hand, however, I recently read that Amnesty International’s website has been blocked in mainland China as of January 12th of this year. This is not the first time that Amnesty has been blocked. In a press release on Amnesty’s website, officials have said:

“’We fear the re-blocking of Amnesty International’s website indicates a widening crackdown, particularly as 2009 will see a number of important commemorations,” said Roseann Rife, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Programme.

This year will see many notable anniversaries in China, including the 50th anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet, the 30th anniversary of the “Democracy Wall” movement, and the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen protests, all of which could inspire protests and trigger government crackdowns.

The Chinese state media has closed down 91 sites since January 8, 2009, in an effort, according to Chinese officials, to remove vulgar internet content. Well known websites, including blogs that have reprinted the signatory list for Charter08, have been specifically targeted by the government. The Charter which “calls not for ameliorative reform of the current political system but for an end to some of its essential features, including one-party rule, and their replacement with a system based on human rights and democracy” has generated immense controversy, particularly in light of the coming 20 year anniversary of the Tiananmen square riots in 1989.

The spectrum for citizen action, and the corresponding spectrum for government reaction is constantly being tested. For now, at least, it appears that the government is willing to allow reports on individual happenings – whether it is a corrupt party official with mal-intentions for an 11 year old girl, or the citizen journalist reporting on China’s “black jails”. But when dealing with larger scale issues, such as calling for governmental reform, Chinese officials appear determined to prevent such reporting.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows