At the start of 2010, Google summoned the tech press to its HQ in California for the launch of its own Android-based smartphone, the Nexus One.
Slimmer than the iPhone and with its own application download store, it's an intriguing device that puts Google in direct competition with partner firms that have previously developed handsets to run the mobile platform.
The launch was the highlight of a week in which the spotlight was turned on the Consumer Electronics Show 2010. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer introduced the event, but with few specifics on the tablet PC, which the company is championing as this year's big thing, the week still belonged to Google.
Unhappy allegiance ends
Capitalising on the impressive amount of news coverage garnered by its unveiling of the Nexus One, Google's next step was to take a stand against China and announce it was sacrificing its stake in the Chinese browser market for the sake of its moral stance. Previously, Google had accepted that the trade-off for having a presence in the world's fastest-growing economy was China's guiding hand in filtering out content it deemed unfit for dissemination.
In early January, having unearthed apparent evidence of this online control being stepped up to include hacking the email accounts of human rights campaigners and political opponents, Google decided it could no longer be involved in such practices. The firm's public announcement of its putative withdrawal from the heavily censored country included a scorpion's sting of a remark: it's one of at least 20 high-profile companies that have been targeted in this manner.
Closer to home, web-traffic monitoring began in another form. Virgin Media announced it was inspecting its customers' broadband usage to see what they're up to. Using deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, the ISP is able to see whether music downloads, general web browsing or online gaming are being enjoyed. It's not logging the IP addresses used to access content, but the ISP does note favoured music tracks and artists in question.
We've been visualising shadowy figures secretly listening in, judging us on our music taste and taking notes. The reality is much more mundane, but no less worrying: if it can log what we're listening to, where does content monitoring stop?
We already have a pretty good idea of what music people are searching for on the web: the songs from their youth lost to the mists of time or changing album formats. Most of us digitise our music collections by ripping CDs so we can enjoy them on an iPod or, as our How to: Audio workshop suggests, unearthing our vinyl and turning records into MP3s.
Given that there's far more value in existing tracks than those about to be unleashed, perhaps we should forget about downloading audio and start streaming it instead, whether from Spotify or Last.fm or via a web radio station. That way we get to avoid the wrath of the web monitors - or at least give them a heavy dose of Krautrock for their trouble.