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The Power Of Us

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Skype, a program that lets them make free calls over the Internet, with better sound quality than regular phones, using headsets connected to their PCs. Callers simply click on a name in their Skype contact lists, and if the person is there, they connect and talk just like on a regular phone call. "Better quality at no cost," exults Meiosys Chief Executive Jason Donahue. Poof! Almost 90% of his firm's $2,000 monthly long-distance phone bill has vanished. With 41 million people now using Skype, plus 150,000 more each day, it's no wonder AT&T (T ) and MCI Inc. (MCIP ) are hanging it up.

A big, hairy, monstrous organism, that is. The nearly 1 billion people online worldwide -- along with their shared knowledge, social contacts, online reputations, computing power, and more -- are rapidly becoming a collective force of unprecedented power. For the first time in human history, mass cooperation across time and space is suddenly economical. "There's a fundamental shift in power happening," says Pierre M. Omidyar, founder and chairman of the online marketplace eBay Inc. (EBAY ) "Everywhere, people are getting together and, using the Internet, disrupting whatever activities they're involved in."

Behold the power of us. It's the force behind the collective clamor of Weblogs that felled CBS (VIA ) anchorman Dan Rather and rocked the media establishment. Global crowds of open-source Linux programmers are giving even mighty Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) fits. Virtual supercomputers, stitched together from millions of volunteers' PCs, are helping predict global climate change, analyze genetic diseases, and find new planets and stars. One investment-management firm, Marketocracy Inc., even runs a sort of stock market rotisserie league for 70,000 virtual traders. It skims the cream of the best-performing portfolios to buy and sell real stocks for its $60 million mutual fund.

Although tech companies may be leading the way, their efforts are shaking up other industries, including entertainment, publishing, and advertising. Hollywood is under full-scale assault by 100 million people sharing songs and movies online via programs such as Kazaa and BitTorrent. The situation is the same with ad-supported media: Google Inc.'s (GOOG ) ace search engine essentially polls the collective judgments of millions of Web page creators to determine the most relevant search results. In the process, it has created a multibillion-dollar market for supertargeted ads that's drawing money from magazine display ads and newspaper classifieds.

Most telling, traditional companies, from Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) to Dow Chemical Co., are beginning to flock to the virtual commons, too. The potential benefits are enormous. If companies can open themselves up to contributions from enthusiastic customers and partners, that should help them create products and services faster, with fewer duds -- and at far lower cost, with far less risk. LEGO Group uses the Net to identify and rally its most enthusiastic customers to help it design and market more effectively. Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY ), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP ), and others are running "prediction markets" that extract collective wisdom from online crowds, which help gauge whether the government will approve a drug or how well a product will sell.

At the same time, peer power presents difficult challenges for anyone invested in the status quo. Corporations, those citadels of command-and-control, may be in for the biggest jolt. Increasingly, they will have to contend with ad hoc groups of customers who have the power to join forces online to get what they want. Indeed, customers are creating what they want themselves -- designing their own software with colleagues, for instance, and declaring their opinions via blogs instead of waiting for newspapers to print their letters. "It's the democratization of industry," says C.K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business professor and co-author of the 2004 book The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers. "We are seeing the emergence of an economy of the people, by the people, for the people."

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Security News

  • Security advisories for Thursday
  • More information about Dirty COW (aka CVE-2016-5195)
    The security hole fixed in the stable kernels released today has been dubbed Dirty COW (CVE-2016-5195) by a site devoted to the kernel privilege escalation vulnerability. There is some indication that it is being exploited in the wild. Ars Technica has some additional information. The Red Hat bugzilla entry and advisory are worth looking at as well.
  • CVE-2016-5195
    My prior post showed my research from earlier in the year at the 2016 Linux Security Summit on kernel security flaw lifetimes. Now that CVE-2016-5195 is public, here are updated graphs and statistics. Due to their rarity, the Critical bug average has now jumped from 3.3 years to 5.2 years. There aren’t many, but, as I mentioned, they still exist, whether you know about them or not. CVE-2016-5195 was sitting on everyone’s machine when I gave my LSS talk, and there are still other flaws on all our Linux machines right now. (And, I should note, this problem is not unique to Linux.) Dealing with knowing that there are always going to be bugs present requires proactive kernel self-protection (to minimize the effects of possible flaws) and vendors dedicated to updating their devices regularly and quickly (to keep the exposure window minimized once a flaw is widely known).
  • “Most serious” Linux privilege-escalation bug ever is under active exploit (updated)
    While CVE-2016-5195, as the bug is cataloged, amounts to a mere privilege-escalation vulnerability rather than a more serious code-execution vulnerability, there are several reasons many researchers are taking it extremely seriously. For one thing, it's not hard to develop exploits that work reliably. For another, the flaw is located in a section of the Linux kernel that's a part of virtually every distribution of the open-source OS released for almost a decade. What's more, researchers have discovered attack code that indicates the vulnerability is being actively and maliciously exploited in the wild.
  • Linux users urged to protect against 'Dirty COW' security flaw
    Organisations and individuals have been urged to patch Linux servers immediately or risk falling victim to exploits for a Linux kernel security flaw dubbed ‘Dirty COW'. This follows a warning from open source software vendor Red Hat that the flaw is being exploited in the wild. Phil Oester, the Linux security researcher who uncovered the flaw, explained to V3 that the exploit is easy to execute and will almost certainly become more widely used. "The exploit in the wild is trivial to execute, never fails and has probably been around for years - the version I obtained was compiled with gcc 4.8," he said.
  • Hackers Hit U.S. Senate GOP Committee
    The national news media has been consumed of late with reports of Russian hackers breaking into networks of the Democratic National Committee. Lest the Republicans feel left out of all the excitement, a report this past week out of The Netherlands suggests Russian hackers have for the past six months been siphoning credit card data from visitors to the Web storefront of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). [...] Dataflow markets itself as an “offshore” hosting provider with presences in Belize and The Seychelles. Dataflow has long been advertised on Russian-language cybercrime forums as an offshore haven that offers so-called “bulletproof hosting,” a phrase used to describe hosting firms that court all manner of sites that most legitimate hosting firms shun, including those that knowingly host spam and phishing sites as well as malicious software. De Groot published a list of the sites currently present at Dataflow. The list speaks for itself as a collection of badness, including quite a number of Russian-language sites selling synthetic drugs and stolen credit card data. According to De Groot, other sites that were retrofitted with the malware included e-commerce sites for the shoe maker Converse as well as the automaker Audi, although he says those sites and the NRSC’s have been scrubbed of the malicious software since his report was published. But De Groot said the hackers behind this scheme are continuing to find new sites to compromise. “Last Monday my scans found about 5,900 hacked sites,” he said. “When I did another scan two days later, I found about 340 of those had been fixed, but that another 170 were newly compromised.”
  • Thoughts on the BTB Paper
    The Branch Target Buffer (BTB) whitepaper presents some interesting information. It details potential side-channel attacks by utilizing timing attacks against the branch prediction hardware present in Intel Haswell processors. The article does not mention Intel processors later than Haswell, such as Broadwell or Skylake. Side-channel attacks are always interesting and fun. Indeed, the authors have stumbled into areas that need more research. Their research can be applicable in certain circumstances. As a side-note, KASLR in general is rather weak and can be considered a waste of time[1]. The discussion why is outside the scope of this article.

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