One of the methods used by communist regimes to control its citizenry is through the use of “block informers,” neighborhood “observers” who spy and report others’ activities to “the authorities.” Those who did not conform to the government’s idea of “good citizenship” were either paid a visit or hauled off, never again to be seen.

Drawing similar comparisons is a new iPhone app, which is being likened to Orwell’s “1984.” What has begun at your local Wal-Mart with Big Sis urging you to “See Something, Say Something,” has now moved to the palm of your hand.

Developed by Citizen Concepts in Florida, the high-tech version of the neighborhood spy – ironically named the “PatriotApp” – allows phone users to text reports and transmit photos directly to integrated points of contact within the FBI, EPA, Government Accountability Office and Centers for Disease Control, facilitating reports of threats to “national security” or “government waste” and “pandemics” to the feds.

PatriotApp’s developers say the application was “founded on the belief that citizens can provide the most sophisticated and broad network of eyes and ears necessary to prevent terrorism, crime, environmental negligence or other malicious behavior.”

The app also allows users to view the FBI’s most-wanted list, post alerts to social networking sites and can be custom-integrated with employers to report workplace wrongdoing.

The PatriotApp is being sold to us as a tool to make us safer. But is it?

Not-so-smart phones?

As I was compiling this week’s column of Internet trends, the Drudge Report ran a link to a Wall Street Journal piece that details more invasions of our privacy via our smartphones.

“Few devices know more personal details about people than the smartphones in their pockets: phone numbers, current location, often the owner’s real name – even a unique ID number that can never be changed or turned off,” the article points out. “These phones don’t keep secrets. They are sharing this personal data widely and regularly, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.”

These two videos – How smartphone apps spy on you and Your digital fingerprint — show you how these phones don’t keep secrets.

Just ask the U.S. Army.

More government “help”: Obama asks for “online bill of rights”

The Obama administration wants Google, Facebook and other Internet companies to come up with privacy rules to protect web users.

And the recommendations, which came in an 88-page report, includes a new government office to oversee the effort.

The “Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework” was drafted by a special Internet policy task force set up by the Commerce Department. It calls for the web industry to write voluntary codes of conduct for protecting web users’ privacy, enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

If Internet companies don’t write their own rules, the department will ask the FTC to write regulations or for Congress to pass a law prescribing them.

And as if that wasn’t enough …

The U.N. also is considering Internet regulations.

The fallout from WikiLeaks isn’t just a data dump of classified documents. The event has provided an opening for the United Nations to get into the Internet control act.

Yep. At a meeting in New York last week, Brazilian representatives recommended that an international body be made up of government reps to create global standards for policing the Internet – specifically in reaction to challenges such as WikiLeaks.

The U.N. is already thinking about setting up an inter-governmental working group to “harmonise global efforts” by policy makers to regulate the Internet.

But not to worry. A Brazilian delegate said this shouldn’t be seen as a call for a “takeover” of the Internet.

Google awarded GSA contract for Federal email

With ties between Google and the White House already under investigation, Google’s relationship with our federal government just got a little cozier.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt was a member of the president’s Transition Economic Advisory Board and sits on the president’s Science and Technology Advisory Council.

Now the Internet giant, teamed with Unisys Corp., has been awarded a five-year, $6.7 million federal contract with the Government Services Administration (GSA).

The contract will transition GSA’s 17,000 employees and contractors to a secure cloud-based platform that includes Google’s Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Sites applications.

Cloud computing is computing over the Internet. You’re already using cloud computing when doing online banking or shopping online sites. Applications are delivered through a web browser, allowing anytime and anywhere access to information.

Advertisers able to sidestep “do not track”

In my Dec. 6 Surfin Safari column, I reported on a “Do Not Track” list to stop marketers from tracking our web-browsing habits and other online behavior. Now it seems that online advertisers are able to circumvent DNT.

Here’s how: Every Internet connection has an Internet Protocol or IP number that shows if you’re logging on at home, at the office, airport or hotel. Visit this site to see the location guessed from your IP address.

Using nothing more than that unique number and a software program, Microsoft researchers say websites can determine whether you’re logged in at home, work or a travel location like an airport or hotel. This capability lets advertisers target people with local ads, sidestepping suggested features of the “do not track” option.

WikiLeaks – the game

You are Julian Assange, and your challenge is to download 300,000 classified documents from Barack Obama’s laptop while he sleeps.

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? The WikiLeaks game! Make that games.

It didn’t take long for entrepreneurial gaming types to develop a plethora of games that challenge gamers to grab the docs and spill the beans. There’s the video game, interactive fiction stories and online games.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Twitter and Facebook

If Mary and Joseph were living in today’s world, this is how they might have announced the Good News. If you haven’t yet seen this modern day version of the Nativity, I’ll be surprised. This clever three-minute video is a shining star!

Twitter to expand its nest to Sacramento.

Twitter is expanding its nest. Earlier this year the micro-blogger announced it would be establishing an additional data center. It appears the nest is being feathered for more servers and associated infrastructure at a location in Sacramento.

Twitter’s Jean-Paul Cozzatti explained on the Twitter Engineering blog, “Having dedicated data centers will give us more capacity to accommodate this growth in users and activity on Twitter. Second, Twitter will have full control over network and systems configuration, with a much larger footprint in a building designed specifically around our unique power and cooling needs.”

Facebook is expanding too, reportedly set to acquire as many as 15 different companies in order to absorb new ideas and technology. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Digital Santa!

Ho, ho, ho! It’s Portable North Pole, a website where you can post or send a free personalized video message from Santa to your little ones.

Generation gap closing

The online generation gap is narrowing, according to the Pew Research Center.

Millennials – ages 18 to 33 – surpass older Internet users in the areas of social networking sites and instant messaging, online gaming and reading blogs. But the oldsters are the fastest-growing group of social networkers: the percent of adults age 74 and older quadrupled from 4 percent in December 2008 to 16 percent in May 2010.

How much time are you spending on the Internet?

MapQuest – For the people, by the people

Know of a private road not included with your online map? See an error? Now you can edit them on MapQuest’s U.S. maps.

Open-source mapping lets you report errors or register to be a map contributor to suggest and make changes yourself. Maps update every 15 minutes, and directions to newly marked locations are available within 24 hours.

Virtual visual reality

You can go to Bing and see 3D street-side photo views on maps. Before long, Bing will be taking you inside buildings for “Interior Views”.

Partnered with EveryScape, the newest photo-mapping feature will let you visually explore businesses, malls, and other buildings. It’s the next logical step from Google’s StreetView capability, in which users can see locales at the street level.

Tracking word usage opens window on culture

Now you can track the popularity of words and their usage on a new Google database of 500 billion words in 5.2 million books going back hundreds of years through a Google Labs project called the Google Books Ngram Viewer.

Groovy, psychedelic, and other words of the counter-culture 60’s take a sharp incline in that decade, then drop precipitously from 1980 to the present.

Type in a word, and it charts the usage of that word over time, according to Google’s blog: “Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets we’re making available today to further humanities research are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.”

The word “WorldNetDaily” went from zero percent in 1997 (the year of its inception) to 200 percent in the year 2000.

The Time Machine

1913 – Woodrow Wilson signs Federal Reserve Act

1945 – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., dead at 60

1968 – Apollo 8 crew orbits moon

1977 – Charlie Chaplin dies at 88

1989 – Brandenburg Gate reopens

1991 – Gorbachev resigns, USSR becomes CIS

Now playing at the Princess Theater in Urbana, Ill.

Congratulations to WorldNetDaily readers Justin Stanford of Lulin, Texas; Brian Macdonald of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Tim Kerlin of Watervliet, Mich., who were among the first to correctly guess actor Harry Dean Stanton in his portrayal of Mr. Eckert in the 1984 movie “Red Dawn.”

The movie’s storyline is set in the mid-1980s when Soviet and Cuban troops land on a Colorado high school football field. The paratroopers attack the school. A group of teenagers flees into the mountains, armed only with hunting rifles, pistols, bows and arrows.

The teens struggle to survive a bitter winter while Soviet KGB patrols hunt them down. They kill patrolling Soviet soldiers and wage guerrilla warfare under the banner of ‘Wolverines’.

The quote: “I was hard on you when you was growin’ up. I did things that made you hate me. Now, you can see why I did. I don’t want no more tears shed for me, ya hear? I’m not gonna be there for you now, you gotta look out for each other.”

View the trailer.

This week’s quote: “Look, Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.”

Name the movie, the actor and the character. Send your answer to me at the email address below. Good luck!

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