Google has unveiled three tools expressly designed to aid people whose internet communication is threatened by oppressive regimes. It could create an awkward ethical debate about which side is “right” in both political and legal conflicts.
The tools debuted as part of Google Ideas, a conference in New York looking at how tech can play a role in a world of conflict.
The first tool is Project Shield. In short it’s a way of allowing website operators to take advantage of Google’s own defenses against Distributed Denial of Service attacks. It uses an existing “PageSpeed Service” by which Google regularly scans your site and then hosts a copy of it on its own servers. Visitors to your site can then see the Google copy, which will not only be tweaked to make it load faster, but should be more resilient to DDoS attacks.
At the moment Project Shield is invite-only, with applications accepted from sites dealing in news or providing content relating to human rights or elections.
The second measure, the Digital Attack Map (pictured), is a collaboration with DDoS specialists Arbor Networks. It’s simply a global map showing DDoS attacks detected around the world, with the size and shape of icons showing how much bandwidth is involved and whether the attack is within a country or involves a group in one country attacking a site or network in another country.
The third offering is a web browser extension, uProxy, that lets users in safe locations share their web connection with people in other countries who fear reprisals if their Internet activity is tracked. Google funded the project but it was built by Brave New Software and the University of Washington.
All of these projects certainly appear very worthy, but there may be inherent problems with deciding who should be able to benefit from them. Google will have to be careful which “rebels” it is seen to be aiding, however indirectly, particularly in conflicts that are more complex than good vs evil. For example, it certainly isn’t inconceivable that some of the people who want to take advantage of uProxy’s privacy have themselves been part of DDoS attacks.