Links and Thinks: 24 January 2018

This week, our Policy Advisor James has been thinking about connections. James tells us about a cable-laying boat connecting New Zealand to the world, about email problems and how to avoid them, and about forgetful search engines and our connection to older stuff on the web.

I'm on a (cable-laying) boat!

Last week, the ship Responder was in Auckland, taking a break from laying the Hawaiki cable, which will give New Zealanders another connection to the world. I was delighted to go aboard.

The cable-laying ship Responder alongside the Cloud on Auckland's Queens Wharf

Hawaiki will complement and compete with the existing Southern Cross Cable. It will connect from Sydney and Auckland in the south-west Pacific, to Noumea, Suva, Neiafu, Pago-pago, Oahu, and the west coast of the United States.

The benefit to New Zealand is another option for international data. With greater capacity, and more competition, we can support more businesses based on getting and using data. One example is Weta Digital, who need to ship data between here and Hollywood to make special effects for movies. By connecting more of the islands, Hawaiki will also give our Pacific neighbours more choices to get online. That's also important for Pacific communities in New Zealand, who will find great ways to use better links back home.

A well within the ship Responder holds thousands of kilometres of fibre-optic cable

My time on a cable ship made me think a lot about scale and the role of data. Billions of dollars, dozens of people, and a couple of huge boats are all working to deliver six tiny optical fibres across the Pacific. All because we care so much about the bits which will flow back and forth to deliver cat videos and other great uses of the Internet.

Here are a few bits of the Internet we care about besides cat videos that have been on our radar this week:

Getting your emails and keeping them safer

Vodafone not forwarding emails

Last year, Vodafone New Zealand stopped offering email to its customers. For people relying on that address, the end of email service meant a big disruption. An email address is still the most important and basic way to identify yourself and be reachable online. To manage the disruption, Vodafone allowed customers to set up email forwarding to a new address for free.

Now it seems the forwarding service isn't working for everyone. For whatever reason, some people say that emails sent to their old, Vodafone-run address, are not arriving at their new inbox. That's a problem. Missing emails is not just inconvenient -- it can mean losing control of your identity online, or missing bills and other communications with real consequences.

The era of email through your ISP may be coming to an end. 20 years ago, an ISP was the main gateway for people getting online, and it made sense for them to offer email services. Now there are other options, including free services like Gmail and Outlook.com.

If you want to keep control of your identity online, you can set up your own domain name with email forwarding. This lets you get an email address like "you@domain.nz", and means you're not so tied to one provider.

90% of Gmail users could easily improve security

Your main email account is probably the place that all your important stuff goes. Tickets, bills, password recovery emails from social media, information from your kiwisaver provider and so on.

Though they're not perfect, the big email platforms do some things well. One of those is offering free email, to make it easy for people to be reachable online. Another is offering tools to help keep yourself secure. For example, Google offers two-factor authentication, which gives an extra level of security when logging into your GMail and other accounts. It does involve a couple more clicks, but we think they do a good job of making it easy for people.

Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of GMail users have turned on two-factor protection. That's a missed opportunity. Two-factor authentication is pretty easy for lots of common services. It offers a second layer of protection, which is really important, given how common big leaks of passwords are these days. We're making a video about two-factor authentication, to get this message out and help people protect themselves online. Watch this space for more!

Google is forgetting the early web

Google's web search was an early example of a tool that learns from its users. As the web took off in the 1990's, finding your way around was like finding needles in a growing haystack. Google's PageRank algorithm looked at people's searches, links, and clicks, to learn which pages people found relevant and useful.

Now, it seems this same learning process might be making it harder to find old content. That's the gist of a story in Boing Boing, where a music blogger's Google searches could not turn up posts he'd published a decade ago. The theory he suggests, is that web search is driven by advertising and attention. Old posts are unlikely to be popular on either front, even if they are exactly what you want to find. All is not lost though. It seems Bing and Duck Duck Go might be better at finding old content.

If we can leave you with anything, it's the lessons from this weeks links:

  • Make sure your email provider is doing what it says it is
  • Turn on two factor authentication on your main accounts
  • And maybe download any blogs from the 2000s you still want to have access to as the internet decays!

From James and InternetNZ, have a great week!