Of course, there really have been projects that used balloons in the upper atmosphere. It is actually difficult to maintain a balloon at a constant altitude in the upper atmosphere because you have to account for daily temperature variation and changing wind patterns. The most famous project of this sort was Project Mogul, which attempted to put a balloon in the atmosphere's analogue of the SOFAR channel to listen for anything that sounded like a nuclear test in the Soviet Union. One of the Project Mogul balloons crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The government's cover story was that it was a "weather balloon", which of course, it wasn't. But it wasn't an alien spaceship, either.
There is a new age coming, one where we realise surveillance is ubiquitous and more importantly carries benefits for us as well as loss of what we thought of as privacy.
This is probably a good thing. These blimps will not be the last of atmospheric and LEO orbitals that will criss cross the globe and provide always-on services we suddenly cannot live without.
We do need to manage who holds and uses information that relates to us personally, but in the end our children will always know where they and their friends are, will be able to look at any point on the globe instantly (want to see the giraffe running across the Serengeti right now) and the losses, well, we will deal with them. The benefits are going to be huge.
Tim Berners-Lee, look what you started.
If this takes off, wifi repeaters and solar charging stations will appear in villages and towns, and guess what with that detail each user will hand over position, time and search information - every drop able to glean more about them than the secret polices best efforts.
Our only hope is it is like rain - it surveils the just and unjust alike
Google often cooperates with government and police.
Next you're going to tell me that they're considered a legal entity in many countries.
In any case, you'll have a lot more privacy if you stop using Google services.
Speaking of how society uses the internet, I traveled through Ghana for four weeks last year and I heard that one of the reasons internet cafes aren't really wanted in smaller towns in Ghana is that people worried about it corrupting their youth, and not in the way you think: they worry about their children getting involved with the 419'ers.
And I must admit, I did see a lot of scammers in the smaller cafes, mostly teenage boys, often a few of them working together. Once I even witnessed a really well organised romance scam: some would be setting up fake dating profiles, looking for pretty pictures of scantilly clad African women, some would be chatting with unsuspecting victims, pretending to be some kind of mail-order African bride (who sadly had a broken webcam), discussing how best to bait the victim, and there actually was a guy "managing" the whole group. It was crazy how coordinated the whole effort was.
Before this gets misinterpreted: I'm not saying you can't trust Africans who are online, obviously - most of them will be people with a higher education and internet at home or the university. I guess the problem with these small internet cafes is that the most likely early adopters are these 419'ers.
Anyway, I wonder how getting internet access to everyone will impact all of this. Maybe it will force the local governments to really start taking the problem seriously.
Basically, I took his observations as more an honest description than a judgement. Your accusations of "inaccurate" and "ignorant" beg the question; are you speaking from a point of superior knowledge on the matter?
> are you speaking from a point of superior knowledge on the matter?
That seems to imply that you are in doubt about the truth value of the following proposition: `Africans mainly use the internet to scam people in the first world`.
If he's demonstrating racism, you're demonstrating white guilt. I don't even know either of your races, but I think that statement adequately highlights the absurdness of your claim.
"White guilt"? Would you care to expand? Guilt which causes me to ignore the problem of pesky Africans using the internet to scam honest folk in rich countries?
I understand why you read it that way, but you couldn't be more wrong about what I think about Africa. As rattray mentioned: I wasn't judging them, just making an observation of how things are there.
Your interpretation of my standpoint is kind of ironic: I was born in Ghana, lived there the first four years of my life. I feel more of a connection to Africa than to my supposed roots in China (I'm half Chinese too), and I hated growing up in the Dutch countryside. While I was visiting my birthcountry for the first time in 25 years, it was the visiting Westerners that pissed me off. They were always complaining about being treated disrespectfully, and refused to see how their insistence of interpreting situations through a Western lens plays a huge role in all the misunderstandings.
So this is getting very off-topic, but let's talk for a minute about white folks not "getting" Ghana, as I understand and experienced it. There's plenty of things, but I'll focus on the wealth sharing issue.
First of all, if you are wealthier, in the local traditional culture it is perfectly acceptable to be asked or expected to share the wealth. Not in the form of money (more on that later), but material wealth, or "spontaneously" paying for something they need. Of course, there's a difference between actually being rich and being perceived as such - and by the way, the locals suffer from this more than we do: "hey cousin, you moved to the city so you're rich now and can support your family in the countryside, right?" Well no, but try telling your family that. It's hard to get a break in Ghana, because as soon as you do everyone wants a piece of the pie (and don't get me started on Ghanaian funerals, if there's one example of a tradition being warped and now bankrupting families...).
You have to realize that if you're from the West, you are considered rich by definition, so you have to mentally be ready for constantly being asked for support. It's tiring, but it's not like you can blame them. From our point of view it might feel like reverse-racism, but look at it from their perspective: you can afford a plane ticket (return ticket even) and taking a few weeks/months off of earning money and going on holiday - how rich do you have to be for that? Just because Weber-Fechner fools you into not feeling rich back home doesn't mean you're not.
Where things go sour is that if you say no, which is perfectly fine, you're supposed to do so with an excuse, so that the person asking doesn't lose face: "I'm sorry, I can't give you my sunglasses, they're the only ones I have." Business and social life are not separated there. Because most Westerners instead feel like being hustled, or are just tired of the never-ending stream of requests, they just bluntly reject the haggler, resulting in him/her feeling insulted and going "well, screw you too then." So the next time they'll just be more rude and blunt like the Westerners, which can result in this weird cycle of everyone slightly pissing off everyone. If you don't know how to haggle respectfully and understand the social component (and it takes a while before you "get it"), you will be hustled disrespectfully in return. Luckily there's some locals who "get" Westerners and are capable of bridging this.
Also, there's a clear correlation between how bad this Western/local culture clash has corroded things and how close to the capitol you are: the closer, the more bluntly the people will ask you for money.
Another communication breakdown example: if you stay over at a family, traditionally they would insist you don't have to pay them. Not because they actually mean that, but because you don't discuss money exchanges out in the open - everyone will want a piece of the pie and they might end up with less than what they started with. The exchange happens discretely when nobody is watching, and you have to 'spontaneously' offer it, sometimes insisting on it a few times (although these days nobody is that naive towards Westerners anymore). Also, a Ghanaian will not tell you to your face that he thinks badly of you - you kind of have to infer that indirectly from others.
So more than once this has resulted in a Western family leaving without paying, thinking "wow, those Ghanians are so generous!", while the Ghanaian family thinks "those disrespectful jerks exploited us!" resulting in them being blunt and openly "Western" (as they interpret it) towards the next family. And then that family will be openly pissed off and haggle about payment (remember: in Ghana, you never dismiss someone to his face, and are supposed do the haggling indirectly/implicitly by giving excuses so the receiving party's social status isn't compromised - things are never "just business" there). So in the end, the local family is even more insulted and the tourists are pissed off and stay away.
More than a few local tourism initiatives have failed because of this. These days, the successful tourist villages have a tourist center, where you pay for the whole experience of staying in that village at once, and everyone in the village gets a share later (again, secretively).
What pisses me off is that every other visitor I met (implicitly) complained about how the Ghanaians weren't more like us, and more than once I've started an angry rant towards them that fell on deaf ears. No, that's now how it works: we're the visitors, so it's our responsibility to understand the Ghanaian point of view. And they actually have a point in their judgement of us being rich. Not that we should accept being treated as walking fountains of cash, but the "it's unfair, it's not like I have endless supplies of money just because I'm white!" gut reaction is very short-sighted, as it's also unfair that we were lucky enough to be born in an economically privileged position. Think of it as an investment in the local economy, an actually working trickle down effect. Yes, it can be tiresome, but you should have done your homework and realize what you were getting into when you went there. As long as it's no too blatantly disrespectful, and you know how to talk your way out of ridiculous requests with a bit of humor, it's all fine.
BTW, this is generalized of course: Ghana is full of different ethnicities and cultures, and things differ from place to place. I had a wonderful time being "back home", and in my experience most of the annoyances could be attributed to past miscommunications souring things as explained above.
So anyway, back to my original post: it's the local population that is hesitant to pick up internet, because they associate it with Nigerian scams and their reputation being smudged. I'm repeating what I was told by them, and was just being curious how this easy access to internet will change things and how the local cultures will adopt it. Also, if you really want to know more about this issue: "Invisible Users, Youth in the internet Cafés of Urban Ghana" by Jenna Burrel. Just picked up my own copy the other day, still have to start reading it, but based on the blurb it seems to mirror my own experiences.
The reason I was critical is that it is poor judgement to bring up the cliche of "Nigerian scams" when discussing something as important as attempts to spread internet availability in sub-saharan Africa. Now, I understand that to some extent you were making a point about how Ghanaian society views internet scamming. But still, it seems to be saying that "Nigerian scams" are a problem (a cost) that we should consider when planning to increase internet availability in Africa. Is the proportion of Ghanaians using the internet for that sort of activity really so large as to merit even discussing it? And anyway, Europeans and Americans make substantial use of the internet for child abuse and to support abusive areas of the global pornography industry; should we consider that as a disincentive for improving internet technology for Europeans and Americans?
> I guess the problem with these small internet cafes is that the most likely early adopters are these 419'ers.
> Anyway, I wonder how getting internet access to everyone will impact all of this. Maybe it will force the local governments to really start taking the problem seriously.
The question here is "problem for whom"? I appreciate your response and explanation that you were making observations about phenomena in Ghanaian society but I still think these sentences are dramatically missing the big picture: we're talking about increasing internet access across sub-Saharan Africa. Something which could radically improve the standards of life of hundreds of millions of some of the poorest people on the planet. It's just not the time to talk about "Nigerian scams" -- a phenomenon which is at worst a minor #firstworldproblem.
Well, it was understandable hostility because I fogot to give the proper context, and then it's easy to misinterpret what I intend to discuss. So also my responsibility to fix the miscommunication (seems to be a theme here... :P).
> It's just not the time to talk about "Nigerian scams" -- a phenomenon which is at worst a minor #firstworldproblem.
Ah, but there our communication still goes astray: I completely agree that it's a minor #firstworldproblem. I was wondering about it's influence as a #thirdworldproblem - "corrupting the youth," ruining local perception of the internet and getting in the way of its adoption for other purposes. To quote tomjen in a separate response: "we don't need people with the morality of 419's to destroy the start-up ecosystem."
Compared to their rough average wage of 120$ or so monthly (I haven't been able to find quite credible sources on this, so if I'm wrong, correct me), that sounds really good.
And I don't think you can't really blame them in their position: the scams work, and from their point of view probably feel victimless: it's white collar crime since nobody gets physically beaten up, and all white people are rich so they can miss the money.
Problem for whom?
This is not a picture of a "Google Blimp." It's not even a picture of a blimp in Africa.
All in all it's a real nice charity project from someone I know, and I get nothing from it, not sure what's so wrong with a little good intentions.
To avoid these two risks (storm and attack), I imagine it'd have to be at an altitude above weather currents and beyond shooting range... or be able to stabilize during a storm and be bulletproof.
If you don't mind that they get blown downwind sometimes, or that sometimes you have to ground them, or you just use them mostly during good weather or good seasons, or if they crash and you only lose equipment not people on board, then blimps can be viable.
Some parts of Africa might not even see a lot of seriously adverse weather.
What kind of defenses to you think the blimps will have to defend against these strikes? Some sort of armor plating on the underside would seem to be the minimum. Hopefully they'll be equipped with some offensive capabilities as well to combat and dissuade guerrilla and terrorist acts.
Or would it make more sense to just use expendable blimps, like a $10 balloon and a $20 router?
Um ... Google drones are the last thing we need. Enough problems with the military ones already.
Of course the warlords who might actually control some parts of these countries wouldn't have that ability nor would they care about shooting it down.
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-altitude_airship it seems that the technology exists to put an airship above the jet stream and keep it in place for a long time. I don't know if that is their solution, but it would make a lot of sense.
"In November 2006, the U.S. Army bought an A380+ airship from American Blimp Corporation through a Systems level contract with Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton. The airship started flight tests in late 2007, with a primary goal of carrying 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of payload to an altitude of 15,000 ft (4,600 m) under remote control and autonomous waypoint navigation."
So it's perfectly possible for these things to typically fly a few kilometres above the ground. That is outside the range of small arms: the furthest confirmed sniper kill to date was at a range of 1,250 m.
So while it would certainly be possible for someone to shoot one of these airships down using aircraft or guided missiles, they would not be able to with small arms fire. Except during takeoff and landing, of course.
They're definitely not at risk to the odd potshot, but massed small arms/crew-served rifle fire could potentially be effective in the lower altitudes.
Also keep in mind that snipers are shooting at humans. That's a much, much harder target than a blimp.
And also don't forget the numbers I'm using suggest this is only plausible if you're firing more or less straight up, meaning the area you're ultimately targeting is where you are.
It's inconceivable that if ever deployed, any of these blimps will be interfered with in the airspaces of East Africa (aside from Somalia) or over any country south of them.
 http://www.suasnews.com/2012/11/19719/activists-drone-shot-o... (Yes, the drone may have been above private grounds; so probably will the blimps)
That contradicts the details that are in the article: "Google lobbyists are targeting regulators across developing countries to allow them to use airwaves currently reserved for television broadcasts - which operate at lower frequencies and can therefore penetrate buildings and travel longer distances than current WiFi technology." It looks like it will depend on access points that serve as routers.
Here's  just one example of the type of thing that is easily possible. It meant that if you bought a new high end car during the last campaign you were likely to receive a direct mail solicitation for campaign contribution from one or both of the presidential candidates. Maybe that is good or maybe it is bad, but there have been few serious discussions, and during recent years the Supreme Court has declined to recognize most notions of any rights to privacy.
I guess google plans to inherit Nigerian family fortunes and such and only needs the coms infrastructure to obtain it.
The impact of those 16.5 million people coming online (if, as you claim, they currently don't have adequate access) is almost trivial compared to the impact these non-traditional internet connections could have for on the order of 1 billion people.
I suppose you were just being snarky, but I (and Eric Schmidt https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqfC0l3W0B4) think this project could have a massive impact on the state of the internet.
They're helping to expand existing markets and creating new markets. African mobile telephony is a success story.
As someone who has family in Africa, right now, and more going within a month, I am confident in my assertion that Africa is a failed continent.
Everyone on earth has tried to civilize, ahem, "bring online" Africa and failed beyond resource extraction. It is a money pit and there are no rules.
There is significant precedence for failure if you open any history book. It is arrogant to think you can influence anything meaningful there. Show some humility and invest in your own back yard where you have a slightly higher chance of making a meaningful impact.
If we're making comparisons of experience I lived in Africa for over 30 years. But that's not relevant. Changing the subject from substance to authority is not a good sign: appeal to authority is a logical fallacy for a reason.
But " I lived in Africa" is not right. Africa is big and diverse. Nobody lives in a continent, they live in a city in a country, and statements like "Africa is a failed continent" are too vague to even be wrong. They cannot be founded in anything other than blind prejudice.
Large parts of Africa are developing rapidly ( http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21572773-pride-africas... http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/01/11/sorry_but_a... http://www.vice.com/read/is-this-the-century-of-africas-rise...), and technologies like this could help - not just help, could be profitable commercial ventures.
> I am confident in my assertion
What I meant was, citation needed. More assertions of the same are not needed.
I couldn't care less if these blimps are deployed to Dakota, Wyoming, and other parts of America as well. Maybe it makes economic sense for google to do it there as well. But google has done the math and determined that it makes sense to do this in parts of Africa, and for some strange reason they aren't dissuaded by random afro-pessimist commenters on hn.
Here is why it is COMPLETELY stupid to put wifi blimps in Africa. LOL
The nearest red dot looks like it's over 2000 km from Cape Town. Nothing within 1000s of km of all of Nigeria. There are huge markets there. etc. etc.
On the contrary, if you read any history book, you'll most likely realize the wonders of human progress, achievement, and optimism. The only arrogant conclusion to draw from that would be to underestimate human potential. Luckily, progress has historically come about thanks to the dismissal of such conservative presuppositions.