In/Flux: Bitcoin v. California. Facebook counts our gay friends. MSFT manipulating search results?
by Drew Atkins
Will lawmakers give a thumbs down to Facebook snooping? Credit: Kevin Krejci/Flickr
It’s Facebook official: We’ve all got gay friends
In honor of what is likely the most jubilant Pride Week in history, Facebook confirmed Tuesday what most of us knew — almost everyone has friends in the LBGTQ community. Facebook crunched the numbers on their site, and found that a whopping 70 percent of users have at least one gay friend — a number that’s likely low, given how many people do not express sexual preference on the site.
Local transparency pioneer gets boost
Interest in government transparency is at an all-time high, with near-daily headlines about the U.S. government’s fight against whistleblowers. But for Seattle-based company Socrata, enabling governments to share information has long been their bread and butter. And this week they got a huge boost in their mission.
Socrata announced Wednesday that they had secured an additional $18 million in funding, more than tripling the amount they had previously raised. Vice President Saf Rabah tells Crosscut this will help them improve their ability to get “data out of their dark enterprise silos and into people’s hands,” which he believes will have wide-ranging positive effects for society.
Through their work with such clients as the State of Oregon, New York City and the Medicare system, Rabah says Socrata has demonstrated how greater access to data improves the performance of public institutions, as well as the lives of citizens. In his opinion, the biggest growth potential is in these quality of life improvements through “micro-data.” By offering such info as block-by-block crime rates, school district details or even the real-time location of snowplows, he believes Socrata’s services may improve countless lives.
Microsoft manipulating search results?
Search engine autosuggests show popular searches as you type, and can often be insightful into the human condition. (Simply enter “When Will I” or “What is the” into Google to see what we mean.) Sometimes there may be more beneath the surface, however.
Recently a user found that when you type “the Xbox One is” into Google, a string of negative words are offered to complete the phrase — “terrible,” “ugly,” “a joke,” etc. Do the same in Microsoft-owned Bing, and you get one choice: “amazing.”
Given the two autosuggest systems are ostensibly based on similar algorithms, some believe this indicates foul play. A Microsoft spokesperson refutes this, flatly stating, “We do not manually alter the results appearing in autosuggest.”
It’s nonetheless interesting timing, with the Federal Trade Commission warning search engine companies this week to do a better job labeling advertisements.
Go restaurant hopping and you’ll inevitably come across stickers near the doors, advertising the eatery’s popularity on Yelp, FourSquare, and other online services. Nordstrom is now testing whether the same approach may work for fashion, launching a pilot program in the Puget Sound that attaches the Pinterest logo to in-store items popular on the social network.
For those unfamiliar with Pinterest, it allows users to create an online scrapbook of sorts, making note of items that they like in fashion, architecture and other areas. Nordstrom’s social media manager Bryan Galipeau tells us they’re encouraged by the results of the program thus far in their Bellevue and Lynnwood locations, and have rolled it out to 13 locations in total.
Bitcoin v. California
Regardless of what you think of Bitcoin — currency of the future or brief fascination among techies — the common view is it’s perfectly legal. Nonetheless, Seattle-based nonprofit Bitcoin Foundation, an advocacy organization promoting the virtual currency, was recently hit with a cease and desist order from the State of California, alleging they had transmitted money without license.
This week the organization made these charges public and began to push back. Board of Directors member Jon Matonis spoke out against the order in a Forbes.com column, noting his organization is engaged in advocacy, not monetary transmissions, and speculating this was a blanket order sent to other Bitcoin-related organizations as well. Since the column was published, Matonis tells Crosscut he has found at least two other Bitcoin companies who have received the order. However, this only represents a very small fraction of such organizations.
“The less innocuous viewpoint is that this is a form of intimidation, or a round-about way to define money transmission,” said Matonis. “We definitely see governments pushing back on Bitcoin and other currencies outside their sphere of influence…. The reality is that they don’t like it when they can’t regulate something, because it reduces their laws to irrelevance.“
The foundation will learn just how irrelevant this particular legal action is soon, with Matonis stating their legal response will go out to the California government by next week.
Tech bytes from the great beyond
Spy on the NSA: With Google Maps, it’s entirely possible (to a degree).
Pac Man is Hunted by Ghosts: Looking to be terrified by a childhood classic? A remake puts things in a new perspective.
Shopping eBay on Saturn: PayPal launches a system to make payments in space. They’re apparently not kidding.
3D Printing’s First “Awww” Moment? Buttercup the Duck gets a 3D printed leg.