Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future

March 2 2015 3:17 PM

ISIS Supporters Publicly Threaten Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey

On Sunday, ISIS supporters posted violent threats against Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and other employees of the service.

BuzzFeed published excerpted translations of the threats:

You started this failed war. ... We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back ... When our lions [brave men] come and take your breath, you will never come back to life.

ISIS frequently turns to Twitter to post and share its propaganda, but accounts used for this purpose can be shut down because Twitter’s terms of service prohibits “direct, specific threats of violence against others, ... [or use] for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities.” BuzzFeed points out that the exact source of the threats is unknown, though they are being shared by ISIS supporters.

Last month, Twitter told Yahoo News that it doesn't monitor accounts for suspected terrorist behavior itself, but rather relies on users to flag inappropriate posts and accounts. “Like our peer companies, we do not proactively monitor content,” a Twitter spokesman said at the time. “Users report potential rules violations to us, we review their reports and take action if the content violates our rules.”

A representative for Twitter told BuzzFeed and others, “Our security team is investigating the veracity of these threats with relevant law enforcement officials.”

Jillian C. York pointed out in a June piece for Slate that Twitter has been inconsistent about removing content. “The company has been opaque when it comes to taking terrorist content offline,” she wrote. But members of Congress having been pressuring Twitter to monitor and contain terrorist messages on the social network. And at the same time, groups like WikiLeaks have condemned Twitter’s actions against ISIS and others as free-speech violations.

Twitter is certainly between a rock and a hard place, but making everyone unhappy could be the only way for the company to navigate such a murky situation. Personal threats against employees may raise the stakes, though.

twitter
A target on Jack Dorsey's face.

Screencap from justpaste.it

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March 2 2015 12:46 PM

Google Is Thinking About Ranking Search Results Based on Facts Instead of Links

New hoaxes and misinformation crop up on the Internet every day, and it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. This is especially true on the most popular platforms, but help may be on the way. Facebook, for one, has been working on reducing the spread of phony news stories in its newsfeed. And now Google is researching methods to improve how it ranks its search results.

In a February arXiv paper, Google researchers outlined progress on a new approach that would allow factual validity to contribute more heavily to a page’s search ranking. Currently the biggest factor is how many other pages link to the page in question, but this isn’t always a good metric for determining quality content. Often viral hoaxes are linked to tons of times simply because they're being talked about, not because they’re correct.

The Google research team wants to revise the current system to look for inaccuracies instead of links. The strategy isn’t being implemented yet, but the paper presented a method for adapting algorithms such that they would generate a “Knowledge-Based Trust” score for every page. To do this, the algorithm would pick out statements and compare them with Google’s Knowledge Vault, a database of facts. It would also attempt to assess the trustworthiness of the source—for example, a reputable news site versus a newly created Wordpress blog. Another component of the strategy involves looking at “topic relevance.” The algorithm scans the name of the site and its “about” section for information on its goals.

The aim is to create “web-source quality–knowledge-based trust.”

As New Scientist points out, there are already some services available that try to highlight misinformation, like the LazyTruth browser extension, which claims to surface “quality information when you receive an email forward full of political myths, urban legends, or security threats.” But adding even the most basic fact-checking capabilities to Google has the potential to produce broad-reaching effects, since so many people refer to the search engine multiple times per day.

On the other hand, algorithm tweaks that affect information surfacing can have unintended consequences, so implementing them is always a process. The Google method is still in development, but the researchers say it shows “promise” and “improvement.”

March 2 2015 12:31 PM

Could the Supreme Court’s Fish Case Decision Free the Boston Bomber’s Friend?

Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in one of the wackier cases this term, Yates v. United States. Yates involved a fisherman who was discovered illegally catching undersize grouper and quickly threw the evidence—his shrimpy grouper—overboard. The government tried to charge Yates under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which forbids the destruction or concealment of “any record, document, or tangible object” in order to impede a federal investigation. Five members of the court held that fish aren’t a “tangible object” within the context of the statute. Four disagreed. Both sides made some good jokes, and the court moved on to its next order of business.

But for Azamat Tazhayakov, a good friend of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Yates was the beginning, not the end, of a complex legal struggle. Back in July, Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction an investigation into Tsarnaev. But the judge delayed his sentencing because the Supreme Court’s ruling in Yates, which was then pending, could affect his case. Now the justices have decided Yates—and the outcome looks pretty good for Tazhayakov. (“I would say that I am purchasing champagne,” his attorney told the Boston Globe, “but I am not ready to open it yet.”)

Here, in a nutshell, is how Yates could create a loophole through which Tazhayakov might wriggle his way to freedom. Soon after the bombing, Tazhayakov went into Tsarnaev’s room and removed a laptop computer and a backpack. The computer contained various documents and images; the backpack contained fireworks, a jar of Vaseline, and a thumb drive. Federal prosecutors argued that these items were “tangible objects” under Sarbanes-Oxley and charged Tazhayakov with illegally concealing them. A jury mostly agreed and convicted Tazhayakov, who could face up to 20 years for the charge.

So far, so good for the government. But here’s where the waters get muddy. In Yates, the Supreme Court held that a “tangible object” is either an item used “to record or preserve information”—especially “paper and electronic documents and records”—or an item “similar to records or documents.” Surely a computer fits into those broad categories. But here’s the problem: The jury didn’t convict Tazhayakov of removing the computer. The jurors seem to have believed that Tazhayakov innocently took the computer to resell it, but nefariously took the backpack to impede the investigation. In effect, the jury split the difference, which didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

That outwardly minor decision, however, may soon drive a stake through the heart of the government’s case. A backpack is surely not an item used “to record or preserve information,” and doesn’t sound particularly like an item “similar to records or documents.” Under the newly minted Yates rule, then, Tsarnaev’s backpack is likely not a “tangible object” within the meaning of Sarbanes-Oxley—rendering his conviction under that law unjust.

But what about the thumb drive contained within Tsarnaev’s backpack? Surely that qualifies as a “tangible object” used to store information. If prosecutors had proved that Tazhayakov removed the backpack with the intent to hide the thumb drive—if they had simply proved that Tazhayakov peeked inside the bag, saw the thumb drive, and went ahead with his plan to hide it—Tazhayakov’s conviction would be sound. Yet prosecutors inexplicably failed to present any evidence at trial that Tazhayakov knew about the presence of the thumb drive. And because Tazhayakov is protected against double jeopardy, the government will never get a chance to reargue the case with a focus on the thumb drive.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this mess is how entirely unnecessary and avoidable it is. Prosecutors had a slam-dunk obstruction of justice case against Tazhayakov. But rather than charging Tazhayakov under a garden-variety obstruction statute, the government chose Sarbanes-Oxley, an obstruction statute on steroids. (The law was enacted post-Enron to bust companies that destroy their own records of malfeasance.) The reason for this choice is obvious: Under another statute, Tazhayakov might have gotten a few years behind bars; under Sarbanes-Oxley, he could get 20. Now, thanks to prosecutors’ hubris, he might get none. Tazhayakov’s saga, then, is ultimately just another case of prosecutorial overreach—one that appears poised to backfire spectacularly. 

Feb. 27 2015 6:19 PM

Google’s Plan for a New Googleplex Could Not Be Googlier

Google’s headquarters, known as the Googleplex, was a pretty spiffy joint when it was constructed in the 1990s as the home base for Silicon Graphics. But two decades have sapped the luster from its sprawling office-park design. Meanwhile, rival tech firms like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have been busy erecting gleaming, futuristic monuments to their own unfathomable wealth and self-image.

Not surprisingly, Google has its eye on a sparkling new showpiece of its own. On Friday, it revealed its plans for a new Googleplex in the North Bayshore section of Mountain View, California, adjacent to its current headquarters. They’re wildly ambitious, high-concept, weird, and perhaps a little naively utopian. Which is to say, they’re just as Googley as you’d imagine.

Instead of solid buildings, the plans call for a series of soaring, tentlike structures with canopies of translucent glass. Arrayed beneath each glass canopy are lightweight, modular subbuildings that can be easily rearranged to accommodate different types of spaces and projects. Snaking around them are tree-studded walking and biking paths, some of which would be lined with shops and restaurants and open to the public. Meadows and creeks would link the campus to the neighboring San Francisco Bay.

Googleplex North Bayshore plans - nature trails
Is it an office complex or a nature preserve? Trick question: It's both.

Image courtesy of Google

Conceptually, the project is about minimizing the boundaries between indoors and out, permanent and temporary, public and private. Architect Bjarke Ingels and designer Thomas Heatherwick and some other trendy-looking people explain their thinking at some length in the video below:

I can see them now: hordes of bright-tailed, bushy-eyed Googlers, coasting silently to work on their self-driving solar-powered bikes, saving the world by lunchtime and then rearranging their offices to save it again in a different way before dinner. All while mingling fruitfully with the diverse yet clean-cut local Mountain Viewers who for some reason will find it convenient to cut through North Bayshore on their daily constitutionals.

Radical as the drawings might seem at first glance, they carry echoes of other major office projects by tech goliaths. The Big Top superstructures call to mind Amazon’s downtown Seattle biospheres. And Apple has been building Apple Stores out of transparent glass for years.

Googleplex yoga and cycle track
Who says you have to leave the office to do yoga?

Image courtesy of Google

Still, the openness and irregularity of the proposed Googleplex contrasts aptly with the monolithic insularity of Apple’s new “spaceship” headquarters in Cupertino. The difference in approach aptly reflects the two companies’ corporate philosophies.

The big question is how much of this Google will be allowed to build. The City of Mountain View is entertaining various options for its planned development of the North Bayshore area, of which Google’s is one. According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, LinkedIn plans to submit its own proposal for the area by the city’s Friday afternoon deadline.

Mountain View harbors mixed feelings about becoming Googletown, U.S.A. The company’s prominence has helped to put the once-sleepy, suburban city of 75,000 on the world map. But it and other Silicon Valley enclaves, including Cupertino, are wary of becoming de facto company towns, dependent on the fortunes of a single megacorporation—especially one in an industry as volatile as technology.

Google headquarters plans - outdoor activities
"Be together, not the same!"

Image courtesy of Google

They’re also besieged by traffic, thanks to zoning laws and traffic infrastructure that are better suited to a bedroom community than a global tech hub. (The plot on which today’s Googleplex sits was literally a farm before SGI built on it in the 1990s.) This is despite the big tech companies’ earnest efforts to help their employees get to work by bike, train, and private bus rather than by car.

Handing a portion of North Bayshore to LinkedIn rather than Google wouldn’t exactly solve everything. That said, local planning processes aren’t so much about solutions as they are about compromises—a word you’ll rarely hear on the tree-lined bike paths of a Googleplex.

Previously in Slate:

Feb. 27 2015 4:54 PM

Post-Adware Disaster, Lenovo Is Trying to Clean Up Its Act

So far, Lenovo hasn’t had the best 2015. After preinstalling pernicious adware from a company called Superfish on many of its laptops, the company experienced necessary backlash from concerned customers and the security community. Now it’s trying to make amends.

In a statement on Friday (the day for buried news), the company said it will drastically reduce the amount of software on its machines that doesn’t directly provide customers with services and capabilities they desire. Such additonal software is often called “bloatware,” or adware in the case of Superfish. Lenovo PCs will now ship with just an operating system, software that coordinates with hardware, security software, and in-house applications made by Lenovo itself.

The statement says (emphasis preserved):

The events of last week reinforce the principle that customer experience, security and privacy must be our top priorities. With this in mind, we will significantly reduce preloaded applications. Our goal is clear: To become the leader in providing cleaner, safer PCs. 

It's good to see Lenovo talking the talk. And the company says that it will release more information about its plans in the next seven days. But it’ll be a while before we can assess the extent to which the company has cleaned up its security practices. Especially when you think about how all of this happened in the first place for a paltry $250,000 contract with Superfish, according to an estimate by Forbes. That doesn’t indicate great judgment.

Feb. 27 2015 1:02 PM

When Tech Companies Betray Consumers, Why Don’t They Own Up to It?

Why are corporations inclined toward denials when embarrassing problems are discovered? Two cases in the past week offer some clues—and illustrate how companies can respond vastly better in such situations.

Both revelations involved technology companies. Lenovo had installed some awful third-party software on a number of consumer-marketed personal computers running Windows, resulting in a genuinely horrific violation of customers’ security. Meanwhile, according to a story in the Intercept based on the Edward Snowden leaks, U.S. and British spies hacked Gemalto, the biggest manufacturer of mobile-phone SIM cards, as part of a campaign to undermine the security of users’ phones.

In both cases, the initial reaction from the companies was, essentially, a denial that anything serious was wrong. But Lenovo changed that stance after being confronted, in often harsh ways, by people who knew better—notably security experts who pointed out the absurdity of the company’s what-me-worry claims. Now, in its latest public statements, Lenovo is saying it’s going to do everything in its power to ensure that it never lands in a similar position in the future.*

Gemalto says it investigated, and that actually everything is fine. A corporate statement includes the following: “No breaches were found in the infrastructure running our SIM activity or in other parts of the secure network which manage our other products such as banking cards, ID cards or electronic passports. Each of these networks is isolated from one another and they are not connected to external networks.”

That was the rough equivalent of “move along, nothing to see here”—and it led to a more skewering from security experts. “This is an investigation that seems mainly designed to produce positive statements,” Matthew Green of Johns Hopkins University told the Intercept. “It is not an investigation at all.”

If the security gurus are correct, Gemalto doesn’t even realize the danger it faces. Let’s hope that company’s customers will demand more clarity, though the world’s telecommunications carriers are traditionally joined at the hip with spy-happy governments, and it may not bother them much that once again they’re giving their customers’ security little or no thought.

As Slate’s David Auerbach suggests, Lenovo’s worst offense was ineptitude, which isn’t something you want to see from a company that tens to hundreds of millions of customers want to rely on for their personal-computing platforms. (As Auerbach also points out, the third-party software companies at least as responsible for this debacle—Superfish and Komodia—are disgustingly unapologetic or silent.)

When the Lenovo story broke late last week, I tweeted about how bad this looked for the PC maker, and how that pained me as a longtime customer, because it had diminished the likelihood that I would buy from the company again. In an early email exchange with a senior Lenovo official, who seemed genuinely perplexed by my reaction, I expressed amazement at the company’s blatant misstatements about the security implications. He later acknowledged, as the company’s chief information officer did publicly, that the harsh reactions had been fair.

In doing that, Lenovo was taking a cue, though somewhat belatedly, from the school of public relations called “crisis communications,” and it’s mostly common sense when applied with integrity. The PR practitioners spend a lot of time helping clients prepare for what seems like inevitable crises, so one of the most important rules, of course, is don’t do stupid stuff that will get you in trouble. But since humans run enterprises, problems are likely anyway.

So how can companies handle these kinds of cybersecurity cases?

First, they should never, ever lie about the situations. If we know anything at this point, it’s that digital security is—at best—a moving target. Saying “We don’t know for certain, but we’re looking into this as fast as is humanly possible” makes a lot more sense. Perhaps lawyers are often involved in decisions to brazen it out in crises of this kind, because companies just hate to admit anything that might give class-action lawyers any ammunition.

Second, they should make public mea culpas if they screwed up. Again, the lawyers probably freak out at the possibility, but then again the lawyers work for the company, not vice versa.

Third, they should publicly explain how they’re going avoid recurrences. This is easier when the issue is malware you install yourself, and much more difficult when you’re fighting off some of the best-equipped spies on the planet.

Lenovo has taken a further, and valuable, step: It vows to “become the leader in providing cleaner, safer PCs”—eliminating “what our industry calls ‘adware’ and ‘bloatware.’” It would be great if this move sparked a race to the top, with vendors competing to offer systems that don’t compromise users’ security and privacy.

One of the most responsible admissions of a screw-up followed by strong action to prevent a recurrence came a few years ago from Consumers Union, the nonprofit that operates Consumer Reports. A report on car baby seats was deeply flawed, so bad that it threatened the magazine’s sole basis for survival: the trust of its audience. Consumer Reports retracted the article in a letter to its audience, and then, after a genuine internal investigation, published a long and instructive piece on what had gone wrong, and how it intended to prevent something like that from happening again.

I’m more skeptical now of Consumer Reports. But I still generally trust it. And I still buy it. There’s a lesson there.

*Correction, Feb. 27, 2015: Due to an editing error, this post originally misstated that Lenovo was saying the company would do everything in its power to ensure that it land in a similar position in the future. It actually said it’s going to do everything it can not to land in such a position.

Feb. 27 2015 12:38 PM

California Is Finally Getting Its Hyperloop. No, It Won’t Help Your Commute.

This post originally appeared on WIRED.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the company that wants to move the revolutionary transit system out of Elon Musk’s brain into the real world, plans to start construction on an actual hyperloop next year.

OK, it will only run five miles around central California, and it won’t come anywhere close to the 800 mph Musk promised, but it’s a start.

The Hyperloop, detailed by the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO in a 57-page alpha white paper in August 2013, is a transportation network of above-ground tubes that would span hundreds of miles. Thanks to extremely low air pressure inside those tubes, capsules filled with people zip through them at near supersonic speeds.

The idea is to build a five-mile track in Quay Valley, a planned community (itself a grandiose idea) that will be built from scratch on 7,500 acres of land around Interstate 5, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Construction of the hyperloop will be paid for with $100 million Hyperloop Transportation Technologies expects to raise through a direct public offering in the third quarter of this year.

They’re serious about this, too. It’s not a proof of concept, or a scale model. It’s the real deal. “It’s not a test track,” CEO Dirk Ahlborn says, even if five miles is well short of the 400-mile stretch of tubes Musk envisions carrying people between northern and southern California in half an hour. Anyone can buy a ticket and climb aboard, but they won’t see anything approaching 800 mph. Getting up to that mark requires about 100 miles of track, Ahlborn says, and “speed is not really what we want to test here.”

Instead, this first prototype will test and tweak practical elements like station setup, boarding procedures, and pod design. “This is a very natural step,” Ahlborn says, on the way to building a longer track that allows for higher speeds and testing freight shipping. It’s also a way to prove that yes, this thing can be built.

Those designs were put together by a group of nearly 200 engineers all over the country who spend their free time spitballing ideas in exchange for stock options, and have day jobs at places like Boeing, NASA, Yahoo, and Airbus. They and a group of 25 students at UCLA’s graduate architecture program are working on a wide array of issues, including route planning, capsule design, and cost analysis.

The partnership with Quay Valley makes sense for both parties. It’s a chunk of private land where Ahlborn doesn’t have to grapple with the right-of-way issues that have plagued California’s high-speed rail project. Quay Hays has been trying to build his housing and commercial development project for nearly a decade (the 2008 recession put the plan on hold). The hyperloop fits with his vision of a place where cars take a back seat to nonpolluting public transit systems. (Ahlborn says the track and station will run as least partly on solar power.)

For Quay, it doubles as advertising: The chance to ride in the world’s first Hyperloop is a great reason for people driving down I-5 to take their bathroom break in the settlement he’s evangelizing, take a look around, maybe buy a house.

More from WIRED:

Feb. 26 2015 5:47 PM

Watch Inhofe Throw a Snowball on the Senate Floor to Disprove Global Warming

During rambling remarks Thursday afternoon, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, used a snowball as a prop on the Senate floor. The apparent purpose of this stunt: to show the recent spate of cold weather in the Northeast is a sign that human activity isn’t causing climate change.

The snowball was brought to the Senate floor in a sealable plastic bag.

Inhofe began his speech with the snowball at his side on the speaker’s podium. After he was introduced, he removed it from the bag, held it in his hand, and said, “I ask the chair, you know what this is? It’s a snowball, just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. Very unseasonal. Mr. President, catch this.”

Inhofe then underhand tossed the snowball in the direction of Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who was presiding over the Senate at the time.

Reaction on Twitter was swift:

The stunt occurred around the same time as the Internet was freaking out about some escaped llamas in Arizona, so many may have missed it. The juxtaposition was not lost on some:

In his comments, Inhofe was his typical climate-denying self—which is frustrating because he wields significant power on U.S. climate policy in the newly Republican-controlled Senate. “I’m not a scientist, and don’t claim to be,” Inhofe said on Thursday. He then cited, among other things, a Newsweek article from 1975 (whose author recently lamented the way climate change deniers use his work), archaeological evidence, and Scriptures, in addition to the snowball, as evidence that refutes the claim that “somehow man is so important that he can change [the climate].”

Your move, llamas.

Feb. 26 2015 2:16 PM

A Happy Day for Net Neutrality Advocates As FCC Votes to Reclassify Broadband

The day is finally here. In a 3-2 decision Thursday, the FCC voted on an Open Internet Order that reclassifies broadband as a utility—under Title II of the Communications Act—as a way of allowing the FCC to prohibit net neutrality faux pas like fast and slow lanes, throttling, and content blocking.

The FCC has said that it will have a light-touch approach to implementing Title II and, for example, isn't interested in regulating things like pricing. For the FCC the crucial issue is having the ability to enforce its authority against “unjust and unreasonable practices.”

The telecom industry is expected to challenge the decision in court. This was successful in 2014 when Verizon challenged the FCC's 2010 net neutrality protections and won. At that time, though, the court did say that the FCC could reclassify broadband under Title II, and the goal is for that precedent to be upheld.

Net neutrality advocates are celebrating. Michael Weinberg, the senior vice president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement:

By embracing its Title II authority and creating clear, bright-line rules against blocking and discrimination, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC have earned a reputation as defenders of an Open Internet. ... [A] bipartisan wave of Open Internet supporters from across the country came together to make it clear to their government that it had a crucial role in protecting an Open Internet.

But others are concerned. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who is, shall we say, not the most thrilled with the decision, said in a statement, “I am sorry to the staff members that were forced to prepare a half-baked, illogical, internally inconsistent and indefensible document. For an institution that prides itself on quality of work and legal and technical expertise, this document is anything but.”

Telecom lobbyists and Republicans have already been thinking about the scenario where the Title II reclassifcation passed, and they support legislation rather than agency regulation as the solution to the net neutrality problem. Opponents of the Title II reclassification say that it will discourage investors from putting money into U.S. infrastructure, because future administrations and iterations of the FCC may use the utility status in ways the current FCC doesn't intend. On this point, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a statement, “The Obama Administration needs to get beyond its 1930s rotary-telephone mindset and embrace the future.”

Scott Belcher, the CEO of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said, "Everybody is in general agreement about having an open Internet. ... We’re in violent agreement on almost everything that’s underway here, but we [need] a legislative solution that makes sense."

But advocates say that the industry created the problem itself by forcing the FCC to resort to utility status. The digital rights group Fight For the Future writes that Title II reclassification was, “The only option that let the FCC stop Team Cable from breaking the key principles of the Internet we love.”

In a statement, Commissioner Ajit Pai said, “If we are going to act like our own mini-legislature and plunge the Commission into this morass, we need to use a better process going forward.” He added that it’s still extremely rare to get bipartisan agreement about net neutrality. “It brings to mind a Texas politician’s observation that there is nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos,” he said. (Pai voted against the proposal, in case that wasn't clear.)

Handling the decision with notable composure and dignity, Verizon just published its response in Morse code, so it would be understandable for 1930s technologists.

Feb. 25 2015 6:53 PM

Less Than 40 Percent of People Worldwide Have Ever Connected to the Internet

As the net neutrality debate rages on, it’s easy to forget that there are people who have never experienced the injustice of an endlessly buffering Netflix movie. And it’s staggering to be confronted with the reality that only 37.9 percent of humans have access to the Internet once a year or more. That’s right: More than 60 percent of us have never connected.

Of course, for net neutrality advocates, the goal is to have a stable, open Internet available whenever this population can gain access, and that’s what Facebook’s Internet.org initiative is working on. On Tuesday, the group released its State of Connectivity report for 2014, which shows progress, but also challenges. The report points out that only 32 percent of people in developing countries have Internet access, compared with 78 percent in the developed world.

The report also says that people are gaining Internet access at a slower rate, a trend that has been going on for four years. The Internet added users at a rate of 6.6 percent in 2014, compared with 14.7 percent in 2010. Though the number of people connected will reach 3 billion in 2015, “at present rates of decelerating growth, the Internet won’t reach 4 billion people until 20197.” That's a while from now.

The report says, “Without the cooperation of industry, governments and NGOs working together to improve the global state of connectivity by addressing the underlying reasons people are not connected to the Internet, connectivity may remain permanently out of reach for billions of people.”

Internet.org breaks the problem down into three categories: infrastructure, affordability, and relevance. The report also discusses how you need both a data connection and a device to actually access the Internet. These organizing principles may seem simplistic, but they are a useful way to see both barriers and potential jumping-off points for improvement. For example, the report says that almost 92 percent of people could connect to 2G data coverage if they had a device and/or a data plan that was affordable.

The report admits that “connecting the world is not an easy task.” It's a refreshingly frank evaluation.

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