Rate Your Polling Place with “Yelp for Democracy”

In anticipation of a Nov. 6 replay of the myriad problems that struck local polling places on Election Day in 2008 and 2004, an initiative dubbed MyFairElection aims to find which precincts experience the most difficulties.

The website is the brainchild of Archon Fung, a professor of democracy and citizenship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and he calls it something like “Yelp for democracy,” comparing his creation to the popular site where the public can rate businesses and contractors.

Those who register with the site will receive a voting reminder on Election day, and be invited to give their voting experience a rating of one to five stars.  If enough voters sign up and give ratings, MyFairElection will be able to create a real-time national “weather map” of voting conditions down to the precinct-level.  Then localized maps can help identify problem areas for journalists, civic groups and election authorities to examine more closely.

Fung traces his inspiration not only to Yelp but also Ushahidi, a platform originally devised in 2008 to crowdsource the tracking of post-election violence in Kenya, which more recently has been used to coordinate disaster response around the world.

Another precursor to MyFairElection is Election Protection, which was one of the first attempts to crowdsource the reporting of widespread polling problems in the U.S.  After the 2004 Ohio fiasco, where the gross misallocation of voting machines may have swung the election, and widespread concerns about the reliability of electronic voting, groups like Election Protection sprang up to track voting problems using the now arcane-sounding method of a telephone hotline.

Fortunately for those voters still without a smartphone, that toll-free number — 866-OUR-VOTE — is up and running this election season and has already started posting reports received from early voters.

While groups like Election Protection collect more detailed reports about serious problems than the simple 5-star ratings to be gathered by MyFairElection, the hope is that this very simplicity will broaden participation, and also register the frequency of difficulties which may not be quite egregious enough to prompt an angry phone call to the Election Protection hotline.

Apple in UK Admits Samsung Tabs Not Copies — Also “Not As Cool” As iPad

In complying with a British court’s order for Apple to publish a statement acknowledging its ruling that Samsung tablets were not copies of the iPad, Apple used the court’s own words to further note that their rival’s tables are also “not as cool.”

The court order came after Apple lost a preemptive lawsuit by Samsung seeking a ruling that the Korean electronics giant’s Galaxy tablet had not infringed on the iPad’s EU-registered design.  The UK court ordered Apple to link on its website and publish in prominent British media a statement acknowledging that Samsung hadn’t infringed on its design, in order to “correct the damaging impression” the Galaxy was a copy of the iPad.

Though the print ads have yet to appear, the statement linked to Apple’s site snarkily highlights an excerpt from the original ruling by High Court Judge Colin Birss:

“The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design.”

“The informed user’s overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.”

Samsung Shipped Twice as Many Smartphones as Apple in Q3

Samsung’s third-quarter results included surprisingly good news considering it lost a $1 billion court battle to Apple in that period.  The Korean conglomerate sold 57 million smartphones from July through September — double the number Apple shipped.

The eye-popping sales total — double the figure from last year and amounting to 35% of the global smartphone market — came despite an injunction against U.S. sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphones in place from June 29 until it was overturned on appeal Oct. 11.  These sales helped boost Samsung’s Q3 profits to a record $7.4 billion, up 91% over the same period last year.

It should be noted that Apple’s comparatively lackluster showing of “only” 27 million iPhones sold in Q3 (Apple’s fiscal Q4) probably had a lot to do with Apple fans holding out for the new iPhone 5, which only went of sale in the last week of the quarter ending Sept. 30. Though Apple missed analysts’ estimates for the quarter, denting it’s lofty stock price, the company’s profits of $8.2 billion still beat rival Samsung’s record haul.

Third quarter sales numbers show other smartphone makers to be in a race to the bottom, with RIM’s sales dropping by nearly 35% year-on-year, HTC’s falling by over 42%, and Nokia dropping out of the top 5 ranking entirely.

So, despite the $1 billion patent judgment (now on appeal), it looks like copying the iPhone was a winning move for Samsung after all.

Brazilian Media Wax Links Off Google

Brazilian newspapers have gone a step further than the French media, stripping Google News of the right to post article headlines and ledes when the news aggregation service links to their sites, unless it pays for the content.

The 154 members of Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers, which account for 90% of the country’s print media, have opted out of Google News en masse.  The association took the action in the wake of a contentious Inter-American Press Association General Assembly in São Paulo earlier this month when Google refused to discuss a compensation arrangement.

Association president Carlos Fernando Lindenberg Neto told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas:

“Google News’ presence in the Brazilian market is small. We believe (the loss of traffic) is an acceptable price to protect our content and brands.”

Lindenberg asserted that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that appearing in Google search results boosts traffic, “providing the first few lines of our stories to Internet users” actually reduces the chances that readers would click through to read an entire article.

When responding to a similar controversy regarding links to French news content, Google recently claimed to direct four billion clicks each month to French media sites.

Despite disappearing from Google News, stories from the 154 newspapers’ websites will still show up in regular Google web searches, often including the headlines and snippets of relevant text.

Bayonets Are The New Binders

Whether or not the final presidential debate managed to sway any undecided voters, it certainly upheld the tradition of spawning a meme to capture the imagination of the American Twittersphere.

When Obama responded to Romney’s simplistic complaint about the U.S. having fewer ships than in 1916 by pointing out that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” it was the zinger that launched a thousand quips.

Actually, it launched 105,767 tweets-per-minute — the biggest Twitter spike of the debate — and #horsesandbayonets was still the top-trending term the next morning.

The Obama campaign was quick to capitalize of the meme, promoting tweets in search results for “horses and bayonets” before the debate was even over.

Romney Facebook App Finds Your Most Politically Influential Friends

In the final sprint to Election Day, the Romney camp is rolling out a new Facebook that searches supporters’ friends to micro-target those most useful to the campaign.

The Commit to Mitt app first searches users’ friend lists to select those living in swing states, so time and effort aren’t wasted reaching out to voters in that are already solidly red or blue.

Then the app uses Faceb0ok’s open graph platform to examine those friends’ interests, tastes and political preferences to identify which ones would be most receptive to direct outreach from the app user on behalf of the GOP nominee.

The user then gets a list of their friends that the Romney campaign recommends they contact with a personal appeal about the election.  If the app determines that a user is likely to influence friends with a broadcast message, it will also suggest post a voting appeal on their wall.

Romney campaign staffer Matt Lira told Tech Crunch that the app was inspired in part by recent research showing that political messages on Facebook can significantly boost voter turnout, which both campaigns agree will be crucial in this election.

 “All one needs to do is look at their own newsfeed to know that people want to talk about this election on Facebook; the question is, how can we make sure that activity is purposeful and effective at making a difference for the campaign,” Lira said.

Dutch Police Want the Power to Destroy Your Computer

A proposal from the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security would grant police powers to break into computers anywhere in the world, install spyware, search hard drives and destroy data.

According to the current wording of the proposal (Dutch, PDF), it’s unclear whether Dutch authorities would even be required to send a legal assistance request to police in the country where a foreign computer is located before remotely seizing control of it, as long as they have a warrant from a Dutch court.

If a computer’s location is obscured by means of anonymizing services like Tor, Dutch police would have no obligation at all to attempt to coordinate with authorities in other countries.

Dutch digital rights group Bits of Freedom is sounding the alarm on the proposal, which was unveiled by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security on Oct. 15.  The group is urging Internet users around the world to contact their relevant government agencies and ask them to make their opposition clear to the Dutch government.