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  • Orkut

     

    History

    Orkut was quietly launched on January 22, 2004 by the search company Google. Orkut Büyükkökten, a Turkish software engineer, developed Orkut as an independent project while working at Google. Some discomfort with this exists among users and potential users of Orkut, especially since Google's other noteworthy product of 2004, the Web-based email client Gmail, had servers scan emails for keywords in order to deliver advertisements targeted at them, which meant to some that Google was "reading your e-mail".

    In late June 2004, Affinity Engines filed suit against Google, claiming that Büyükkökten and Google based Orkut on inCircle code. The allegation is based on the presence of 9 identical bugs in Orkut that also exist in InCircle.

    Originally, the Orkut community was felt to be elite, because its membership was by invitation only. At the end of July 2004 Orkut surpassed the 1,000,000 member mark, and at the end of September it surpassed the 2,000,000 mark. As of February 15, 2007, the number of members was over 43.46 million.

    Orkut's use as a social tool is complex, because various people frequently try to add strangers to their own pool of friends, often just to increase the number indicating their number of friends next to their name in their profile. Many "add-me" communities exist, solely for this purpose. A large number of bogus, cloned, fake, invisible and "orphaned" profiles also exist. [citation needed]

    [edit] Features

    Users have options to rate their friends in the order of "Best Friends", "Good Friends", "Friends", "Acquaintances" and "Haven't met". Further, each member can become fans of any of the friends in his/her list and can also evaluate whether his/her friend is "Trustworthy", "Cool", "Sexy" on a scale of 1 to 3 (marked by icons) and is aggregated in terms of a percentage. Unlike Facebook where a member can view profile details of people only on his/her network, Orkut allows anyone to visit anyone's profile, unless a potential visitor is on your "Ignore List". Importantly, each member can also customize his/her profile preferences and can restrict information that appear on their profile from their friends and/or others (not on the friends list). The highlight feature is where any member can add any other member on Orkut to his/her "Crush List" and both of them will be informed only when both parties have added each other to their "Crush List".

    If person A deletes person B from his friends' list, person A will be deleted from person B's friends' list also.

    Orkut has many other competitors like MySpace, Facebook and hi5.

    [edit] Controversy

    [edit] Popularity in Brazil

     

    The Orkut community has been watching a large surge of Brazilian users registering on its service, despite the overall percentage of Brazilian users decreasing. This is the highest percentage of any single country's population using the service. According to the New York Times it's pronounced "or-KOO-tee" in Portuguese.[1] The number of Brazilian Orkut users counts for 56.68% of the total users, followed by The United States and India, with about 18.59% and 13.27%[2] respectively (as of February 28, 2007). However these statistics do not reflect the demographics by country in a reliable way as members are free to submit any nationality (or country of residence) they wish and many indeed do so. According to Alexa website the number of Brazilian Orkut visitors counts for 72.5% of the total users, followed by India and The United States, with about 16.1% and 2.7% respectively (as of February 22, 2007). Due to the number of Brazilian users and communities in the Portuguese language, users from other parts of the world became upset with the service, when it established Portuguese as the first "alternate default language," (as English was the primary default language) prompting many community owners to enforce an English-only posting policy. Some went as far as to start online communities and discussion groups dedicated to complain about this phenomenon. Hoaxes have also been spread, with the intention of tricking Brazilian users to change their nationality in Orkut.

    In a recent interview to a Brazilian news site, the creator of Orkut said he doesn't understand the phenomenon and complains about the fact that North-American press and users are ignoring the service and using similar services like Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook. He also noted that Brazil is actually the main focus of Orkut.[citation needed]

    Orkut is especially popular among teenagers and people in their 20s, just like MySpace in the USA.[citation needed]

    [edit] Flooders and fake profiles

    As the number of Orkut users increased, there was a rise in the number of fake and clone profiles, something that can be achieved just in a matter of a few minutes. Due to the large number of users and the deactivation of the jail system, the profiles were often left unremoved or, when removed, recreated easily. These profiles are normally created to troll, to spam, to flood or just for fun. It isn't hard to find users owning more than one profile, with some stating they own hundreds.

    Later, the clones started to flood communities and scrapbooks by submitting topics or scraps hundreds or thousands of times manually. Shortly thereafter, by simply examining the source code of the page, they found it was possible to create Javascript codes to automatically flood the site. Soon (given that Orkut is a complex social network), flooding wars started to occur frequently between some antagonistic groups. Another new phenomenon is Scrapbook wars, when a group of users are engaged to zero or increase the scrapbook counter of someone.

    In 2005 invisible profiles, communities and topics started to appear in Orkut. This could be achieved by using HTML escaping codes and 1x1 pixel photos to fool the engine behind the site.

    In the August of 2005 a freeware program made in Delphi called Floodtudo ("tudo" in Portuguese means "everything" - this was developed by a Brazilian) was created specifically for flooding Orkut. It quickly spread through the users and was easily downloadable (the most common Floodtudo versions were 1.2, 1.5, 2.0 and 2.2). As this program was massively used by thousands of spammers, a big spam wave struck Orkut in September and October of 2005. However, changes implemented by the developers in November made this program non-functional.

    As the flooding of Orkut was getting out of control, the developers implemented some features in order to stop this, such as not allowing two or more verbatim topics or scrapbook entries to be submitted, forcing the user to wait before posting another topic or scrapbook entry, and the usage of captchas. They gave more rights to community moderators as well, so that they can just ban users instead of relying on the developers to remove them, and now community moderators are able to mass-delete posts too.

    Other ways of profile and community attacks still exist, like testimonial flooding attacks on scrapbook and member counters, multi-profile floods and social engineering.

    [edit] Hate groups

    There has recently been controversy revolving around the use of Orkut by various hate groups. Virulent racists allegedly have a solid following there. Several hate communities focused on racism, Nazism, and white supremacy have been deleted due to guideline violation. However the number of these communities and profiles has not stopped growing because they can be very easily created and it is hard for Orkut to check them.

    In 2005, various cases of racism were denounced to police and reported in the Brazilian media. [3] [4] In 2006, a judicial measure was opened by the Brazil federal justice denouncing a 20-year-old student accused of racism against Black people and spreading defamatory content on Orkut. [5]. Brazilian Federal Justice subpoenaed Google Devil on March 2006 to explain the crimes that had occurred in Orkut.

    Anti-religion, anti-national, and anti-ethnic hate groups have also been spotted. Recently an Indian court has issued notices to Google on some of the groups. Groups denigrating various political leaders and celebrities have also emerged.

    [edit] Copyright disclaimer

    Orkut's terms of service state:

    By submitting, posting or displaying any Materials on or through the orkut.com service, you automatically grant to us a worldwide, non-exclusive, sublicenseable, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to copy, distribute, create derivative works of, publicly perform and display such Materials.

    This does not mean that any contribution to the Orkut community (be it forum posts or photos) becomes the property of the site owner; while it means that Orkut can use any submitted information for any purpose, the original submitter doesn't lose any rights to his materials.

    Although other popular social network services such as Friendster and MySpace contain similar statements, this policy offended many dedicated Orkut users, some of whom deleted their accounts as a protest.

    [edit] State Censorship

    Orkut was very popular in Iran, but the website is now blocked by the government. As they say, this is due to national security issues, as Orkut users have the ability to spread messages rapidly, but the government says it's due to Islamic ethical issues about dating and match making. To get around this block, sites such as orkutproxy.com (now defunct) were made for Iranian users. Other websites such as Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups have communities dedicated to receiving updates on the newest location of Iran's Orkut proxy. Though it was once possible to bypass governmental blockage of Orkut, the site has closed its HTTPS pages on all anonymous proxies. Now it is almost impossible for ordinary users to visit this site inside Iran. Also many sites have been published since Orkut's blockade in Iran following the same path such as MyPardis, Cloob or Banhaneh. Of course these websites deal with a high degree of risk to get filtered too, so they have their own censorship policies to meet Iran's un-written regulations and rules of filtering.

    In August 2006, United Arab Emirates followed the footsteps of Iran in blocking the site. This block was subsequently removed in October 2006.

    Saudi Arabia is another country that has blocked access to Orkut.

    [edit] Speed and Reliability

    The "Bad, bad server" screen, one of the commonly known sights on Orkut.

    As of September 2006, Orkut often is unavailable, producing a "Bad, bad server. No donut for you." error message — behavior consistent with that of an underpowered server under heavy load. The outages tend to occur during the day hours in the Americas, home of more than 75% of Orkut users.

    The "Orkut is under construction" screen.

    Orkut sometimes displays an "under construction" screen while the server is under maintenance. These occurrences last from a few minutes to a few hours to a few days.

    Orkut was displaying the same "under construction" message, beginning 21:42 hours, GMT, Jan. 18,2007. It recovered within 6 hours this time.

    [edit] Security and safety

    On June 19, 2006 FaceTime Security Labs' security researchers Christopher Boyd and Wayne Porter discovered a worm, dubbed MW.Orc.

    The worm steals users' banking details, usernames and passwords by propagating through Orkut. The attack was triggered as users launched an executable file disguised as a JPEG file. The initial executable file that causes the infection installs two additional files on the user's computer. These files then e-mail banking details and passwords to the worm's anonymous creator when infected users click on the "My Computer" icon.

    The infection spreads automatically by posting a URL in another user's Orkut Scrapbook, a guestbook where visitors can leave comments visible on the user's page. This link lures visitors with a message in Portuguese, falsely claiming to offer additional photos. The message text that carries an infection link can vary from case to case.

    In addition to stealing personal information, the malware can also enable a remote user to control the PC and make it part of a botnet, a network of infected PCs. The botnet in this case uses an infected PC's bandwidth to distribute large, pirated movie files, potentially slowing down an end-user's connection speed.

    The initial executable file (Minhasfotos.exe) creates two additional files when activated, winlogon_.jpg and wzip32.exe (located in the System32 Folder). When the user clicks the "My Computer" icon, a mail is sent containing their personal data. In addition, they may be added to an XDCC Botnet (used for file sharing), and the infection link may be sent to other users that they know in the Orkut network. The infection can be spread manually, but also has the ability to send "back dated" infection links to people in the "friends list" of the infected user.

    According to statements made by Google, as noted in Facetime's Greynets Blog the company had implemented a temporary fix for the dangerous worm.

    On January 1, 2005 a Brazilian cracker called Vinícius K-Max attacked Orkut, stealing community ownership rights, using a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability. Eventually, various phishing sites were developed with the intent of stealing other people's accounts and communities.

    On October 25, 2006 another Brazilian hacker called Klay discovered a XSS Type1 vulnerability which would make it possible to inject HTML into Scrapbook's URL [7]. Rodrigo Lacerda used this vulnerability to create a cookie stealing script that was known as the Orkut Cookie Exploit which was injected into the Orkut profiles of the attacking member(s). By merely viewing a site containing an iframe that linked to the attacker's Scrapbook, targets had the communities they owned transferred to a fake account of the attacker. By December 29, 2006, Orkut had fixed the vulnerability.

    On November 8, 2006 Rajesh Sethumadhavan discovered an XSS type 2 vulnerability which would make it possible for Orkut members to inject HTML and JavaScript into their profile Music. On December 12 Orkut had fixed the vulnerability.

    Apart from viruses and malware there seem to be common misconceptions about how Orkut actually works.

    [edit] "Jail"

    In the first year of Orkut users who misbehaved or were reported to misbehave could be "jailed". Their account was suspended, their site access was reasonably limited, and their profile picture was temporarily replaced with a silhouette of a man behind prison bars. Although this served a useful purpose, the way users were selected to be jailed caused heated discussions and complaints among Orkut users: every user's profile has a "Report as Bogus" button, which, if pressed, automatically flagged the user to be jailed. Conceivably, this meant that anyone could be jailed at any time by pressing a single button.

    Another way to be jailed was to have a bot-like behaviour. To safeguard against bots and similar kinds of software automations, users who added friends or joined communities in a very quick or repetitive manner were automatically put in jail. However, this also often happened to new users trying to add all their friends at once.

    Users who were jailed were not informed of the reason, nor were they notified that they had been jailed. Jailing usually did not last long (up to 24 hours in most cases), but was often disturbing to users, as there is no direct contact to the Orkut team (their contact form only answers with template emails), and jailing limits one's options to waiting or posting in a designated forum. Ironically, site users once reported that Orkut Büyükkökten, the creator of the site himself, was jailed. The jail system is currently deactivated due to its inefficiency. Now when someone clicks on the "Report as Bogus" button, he is directed to a complaint form entitled "flag for review", where he is able to provide further details about the abuse he is reporting.

    [edit] Legal Issues

    [edit] Brazil

    On August 22, 2006, Brazilian Federal Judge José Marcos Lunardelli ordered Google to release Orkut user’s information of a list of about two dozen Brazilian nationals, believed to be using Orkut to sell drugs and involved in child pornography by September 28. The judge ordered Google to pay $23,000 per day in fines until the information is turned over to the Brazilian government. The information the government is requesting would also be used to identify individuals that are spreading child pornography and hate speech, according to the Brazilian government. As of September 27, 2006 Google has stated that they will not release the information, on the grounds that the requested information is on Google servers in the U.S. and not Google servers in Brazil, and is therefore not subject to Brazilian laws.

    [edit] India

    On October 10, 2006, the Bombay High Court's Aurangabad bench served a notice on Google for 'allowing a hate campaign against India' [citation needed]. This referred to a community on Orkut called 'We Hate India', which initially carried a picture of an Indian flag being burned and some anti-India content. The owner of the community is supposedly some one from the Russian federation.

    The High Court order was issued in response to a public-interest petition filed by an Aurangabad advocate. Google had six weeks to respond. Even before the petition was filed, many Orkut users had noticed this community and were mailing or otherwise messaging their contacts on Orkut to report the community as bogus to Google, which could result in its removal. The community continues to exist and had spawned several 'We hate those who hate India' communities.

    On November 23, Bombay High Court asked the state government to file its reply in connection with a petition demanding a ban on social networking site, Orkut, for hosting an anti-Shivaji Web community.'File reply on plea for ban on Orkut: HC'

    The community had been blocked by the Pune police after a few violent incidents were reported in the city when its existence came to light two weeks ago.

    As of February 2007, there are at least 17 communities on Orkut which carry the slogan "We hate Pakistan". These hate groups are used by antagonistic users to express their hatred and often lead to verbal abuse among Orkut members.

    Recently, the Pune rural police cracked a rave party which is illegal in India. However, the convicts are booked under the breaching of Indian Cyber Law(2001). Orkut was believed to be one of the mode of communication for these kind of drug abuses. Majority of educated Indians believe that Orkut digital social network should be moderated heavily in a place where people lack the maturity and misuse its facilities.

     

    Friday, March 23, 2007 8:42 AM

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