All posts by The Grand Signal

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Vigier on Flickr |

Online petition to release and pardon the founder of The Pirate Bay reaches over 80,000

Gottfrid Svartholm, also known by his many supporters as Anakata, is currently being held in a Danish prison under solitary confinement. Svartholm was extradited to the country last November from Sweden to face several hacking changes.

An online petition addressed to the prime minister of Denmark is requesting the government to pardon and release the alleged hacker in addition to lifting the restriction that prohibits reading and educational material. The Danish government is worried that Svartholm could discover information that impacts the charges if granted such material.

“While the Swedish upper level court dropped charges related to the Nordea hacking, and reduced his overall sentence to half on 25th of September 2013, so that Anakata should be freed by now, he was nevertheless extradited to Denmark, and is now locked up in high security prison under constant surveillance, while reduced to bare minimum, almost no outside contact. Even his Mother cannot visit him during the Holiday Season, since there are not enough guards for that. His total contact with other inmates cannot exceed 9 hours a week”, writes on the petition.

You can sign the petition here.

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Vigier on Flickr

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satellite dishes

Silicon Valley’s New Spy Satellites

Who says Silicon Valley is restricted to software? Planet Labs is a Valley “startup” hoping to build something out of this world (we apologize).

Planet Labs are a group of social entrepreneurs planning on launching a host of satelights to low-earth orbit, in order to monitor and track the world and offer real-time information about our planet to us. In doing so, they hope to increase awareness and urgency for gloabl environmental concerns.

Silicon Valley is making what, in any other decade, we’d call spy satellites. A few governments will sell imagery from their spy satellites to you. A new age of controversy and technological policymaking is on it’s way.

via The Atlantic

photo by: Paul Keller
Photo courtesy of Antana on Flickr |

Does Bitcoin have the potential to change the financial landscape?

Last year the price of a Bitcoin was hovering at a little over $13USD. Fast forward a year later and it’s now trading at $800USD.  Many wouldn’t have anticipated the sudden spark in interest from consumers; such is the dynamic of the internet and the pace of technological change today.

Those who are bullish on Bitcoin (or,  digital currency for that matter) rave about the potential of Bitcoin to  disrupt the financial sector. One of the main benefits of Bitcoin are the low transaction fees, which make it a much more appealing currency for online merchants who already suffer from low profit margins. Low transaction fees also make micropayments a much more feasible business model for digital publishers (see Bitwall). Instead of relying solely on ads or subscriptions, small Bitcoin payments to read an article has the potential to be the norm.  The ad model de-couples the value that a news organization provides to readers and how they generate revenue. It’s created a conflict of interest of sorts, since news sites end up prioritizing over-sensationalism rather than quality and accuracy.

For now though, the instability of Bitcoin makes the aforementioned benefits infeasible. Such volatility is expected given the decentralized nature of the currency. Building consumer confidence in the currency takes time, and many are also speculating on the hundreds of other iterations of Bitcoin (Dodgecoin, Litecoin etc.),  further fueling the digital currency bubble. Whether Bitcoin or another competitor comes out of this bubble alive is a question to be answered in the near future.

And then there’s the politics. Decentralization is ideologically in line with the libertarian philosophy – many of the early supporters of Bitcoin were in fact libertarians. The battle for Bitcoin may very well end up being political, with governments seeking to regulate the currency on the grounds of providing stability. Such actions are already taking place in countries such as India and China where the currency was banned to prevent criminal activity. Governments might not be able to directly control the flow of the currency,  but some level of government intervention is possible which will usher in the old debate of left versus right.

The benefits of digital currency – decentralization, low transaction fees, and speed, are big enough reasons to consider it as a viable alternative to traditional currencies.  Whether it becomes relevant is an entirely different question, and will depend on the myriad of decisions from the government, corporations, and every day citizens.

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Children of Zaatari camp

London Rescues Syrian Refugee Tech Startup

Business was booming for tech-startup Rootal 2 years ago, until a car bomb was set off just a few blocks awat from its Damascus headquarters. It’s been two years since Rootal was keyed in on the Syrian government hitlist, but the geolocation company is still going strong. How?

You can thank the United Kingdom’s Refugee policy.

Without his duel citizenship, Rootal founder Adnan Al-Khatib would likely be wasting away in a Syrian jail somewhere. Although lambasted over the last few years for suspected xenophobic policy, London has accepted thousands of refugees form Syria, including Adnan and his fledgling tech startup.

“I remember sitting there and reading that there was fighting up north, which seemed far away,” he recalls. “The next day it’s in Homms, which is closer. A few weeks later it’s moved into the suburbs of Damascus and I managed to convince myself that too was a long way away. Then a bomb blast goes off in my neighborhood and a car goes up, with firefights right in front of my home. You find yourself not caring, because the bullets aren’t coming in. You just become desensitized.”

via Forbes

photo by: Oxfam International
Boy drinking water

mWater – Using mobile technology to track water quality

Despite achieving the millennium development goal of cutting lack of access to safe drinking water in half by 2015,  approximately 11% or 783 million people still don’t have access to clean water (as of March 2012).  Particularly, there remains large disparities in developing areas such as sub-Saharan Africa  where only 61% of the population had access to water in 2010.

mWater is a non-profit organization based in New York City that have developed a mobile application that tracks water sources and allows users to submit and share results from water tests. The Android app leverages a phone’s camera to automatically process the results from images to detect contamination.

Crowdsourcing water quality is an effective solution and mitigates the reliance on a single body to maintain and distribute information. In an interview with HumanIPO,  founder Anne Feighery talked about the desire to remove paper out of the documentation process and instead rely on the cloud. This appears to be the trend for many new social technologies being introduced in the developing world.

The company recently raised $100,000 from USAID and hopes to continue testing its service in Tanzania and other African countries such as Rwanda in the future. You can visit their website at for more information about the company and donation options.

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