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What are you really sharing?

Desmond Boylan/AP/PA

SOMEONE in Cuba wants to know about AC/DC. The query pops up on a screen in Atlanta. After a quick web search, the answer is on its way back to Cuba. Next up: a request for the English translation of a Spanish phrase.

Launched last week, Cuba Intercambio is an email-based service that connects Cubans to people who act as their online proxies. The service exists because Cuba’s internet provision is one of the most restricted anywhere, and expensive to access. Only 5 per cent of the population is hooked up to the web, although the state telecoms company has announced that it will begin offering home broadband access. But censorship could still make even a Google search impossible for most.

However, many people in Cuba have access to the national email system, so Amy Bruckman and her colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology built Cuba Intercambio around that. It receives users’ queries by email and puts them up on a Facebook group. Anyone outside Cuba canlook up the information requested and send it back. The set-up is deliberately low-tech, says Bruckman.

Cuba Intercambio is one of several projects trying to bridge the gap between internet haves and have-nots. Many parts of the world, including large swathes of Africa, South America and Asia, have limited or no access. Last May, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union estimated that there were about 3.2 billion people using the internet, meaning more than half of the world’s population is still offline …

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