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Google launches balloons to bring the net to remote areas

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With the current controversy over global data surveillance, the timing could have been better for Google to launch its balloons into near space in order to improve internet access. Would-be digital refugees hoping to remain off-grid will find it harder once Google's floating wi-fi operation gets into full swing.

Thirty superpressure balloons are being launched from New Zealand to drift around the globe on a controlled path. The equipment on board will offer sporadic 3G speed internet to remote areas. Project Loon, as Google call it, is in the experimental stages but the object is to reach those areas of the planet that are not yet served by the wonders of the world wide web.

The balloons will offer a 40 km diameter footprint of access below their flight path, although, if a strong wind comes along, some Amazon tribesperson could be disconnected in the middle of shopping on Amazon.

Richard DeVaul, Google's technical architect, explained the idea to the BBC. "It's pretty hard to get the internet to lots of parts of the world," he said. "Just because in principle you could take a satellite phone to sub-Saharan Africa and get a connection there, it doesn't mean the people have a cost-effective way of getting online. The idea behind Loon was that it might be easier to tie the world together by using what it has in common - the skies - than the process of laying fibre and trying to put up cellphone infrastructure."

Google have offered some spurious philanthropic spiel about diverting the balloons to disaster areas where ground communications might have broken down, but let's face it, the main aim is to get all those benighted peoples currently beyond the reach of a decent network connection to sign up to Facebook and Google+ so that their data can be tracked and their consumer preferences met by advertising. And, though Google would deny it, so the US government can intercept their emails.

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