29 October 2010

Google - Good Or Bad?

Careless or Stupid
Dishonest or Fiendish
Uncaring or Mean
Superior or Seeking only a master race?

Can Google really be evil? Just because it stretches plausibility doesn't make it not true. The onus on proof of "do no evil" must be on the person making that bold statement - not on the rest of civilization to prove them wrong.

In my view - Google has crossed the lines of both human decency and now more likely several laws in multiple countries. While this piece is on Google's streetview product/service - it clearly shows what happens when Google has a dominant position and/or the capability to do evil, it ACTUALLY does it. In the case in question, one has to ask the basic question, what if they did this and no one had found out?

When I discussed the Googleplex’s interesting denials earlier this year about its “accidental” collection of wifi data – I made the point that it was far from plausible/possible that the data collection could be accidental.

So far Google has made two retractions. The first one was that yes they did indeed capture personal data not just SSID and open Wifi details, the second far more serious admission is that they have kept the personal data for a very long time and still have not deleted it. Indeed, Google is not even making much of an effort to eradicate the personal data.

In privacy discussions lately, I have been amazed at the very lax approach to privacy taken by some large sections of our society. From a societal perspective as a whole it would seem that privacy has a low priority. In geographic terms – there is a general assumption that privacy is not a big deal in America. In Asia and the middle east the view is that privacy is expected to be monitored at the Government level only Australasia and Europe appear to champion the cause of privacy. On a generational basis the declining Boomer generation appears to be concerned with it but from Gen X onwards, security and privacy are just assumed to be OK. So far I have not seen a definitive study on people’s attitudes to security so I have gleaned this from many different perspectives.

Perhaps the final straw of this whole debacle is that Google has committed to deleting the data “as soon as is convenient”. It takes but minutes to do that – write a piece of code that erases this stuff from the database should be a trivial exercise for the Googleplex wonks given all the other stuff they can do to mine data.

Since I know that (A) some of my wifi ports were open when the street view was taken of my house and (B) Google still holds this data – I must be a member of the injured class.

With the Rapleaf + Facebook/MySpace Apps story over the past two weeks, the issues of what Google is doing makes chilling reading. In exposing what Rapleaf does by searching for data and capturing it from disparate but readily available public and semi public information sources from the web that are easily available just think what Google can do with all its exabytes of data that it holds on us and our behavior. Google is like an incredible octopus (perhaps we should call it the Googlepus from now on). Everyday it increases the number of Touchpoints that it has with humanity. I doubt there are now many people on the planet who are not in some way touched by the web – knowing or unknowingly in an identified fashion. Google has to stop these practices.

Over a pleasant evening with a former client in India this week – he asked a very poignant question that I had not considered before. Is Google’s behavior deliberate? He cited the increasingly arrogant positions that Google has taken in the ITA battle. His point was that Google is daring the US authorities to either ban them from taking over ITA or worse have remedial action that might include an anti monopoly action to break up the company. In my view with full hindsight, Microsoft’s 7 year battle over the browser pails into insignificance in comparison with what Google now knows about us and their control. Why the US Department of Justice has not launched an investigation into Google seems now to be a very scary thing. One thing for sure is true. We have created a commercial “Big Brother”. And he really does manage the Googleplex.

Perversely on my part I don't think that Google should be actually prevented from buying ITA judging by prior decisions from the US various departments. But if you then consider what can be done and then look at the request you can see why the Expedia cabal are scared.

Returning to the subject of Streetview are my assertions scare mongering or worse? Actually there is a lot of evidence to support my position and views. For example let’s consider the way Google dealt with its admission earlier this year that it had “by mistake” collected information. In a June 9 letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee, Google director for public policy Pablo Chavez asserted that Google "mistakenly included code in our software that collected samples of 'payload data'" from private WiFi networks. That sounds a reasonable enough explanation. But a PRIOR application for a patent indicates that Google had (and continues to have) every intention of collecting as much data as it possibly can and using it. And darn it if Google had even filed a PATENT application in January of 2010 that supports this position that Google actually has a mission to assemble as much information as possible about US residential and commercial wifi networks (and we must assume other markets since it admitted to collecting data in 30 countries).
Google’s patent application makes frequent indeed repeated reference to 'capturing' packets, including paragraph [0055], which states that the system will enable geolocations so long as the equipment being used 'is able to capture and properly decode a packet...'
Read the patent here: http://insidegoogle.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/US20100020776.pdf
Read the letter from Google to the US Energy and Commerce Secretary here: http://insidegoogle.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/LtrWaxman071910.pdf
Over the past few months I have written several Blog posts on my opinions about Google and what supports these views. It just makes me so darn nervous to see their behavior and the abuse both potential and now actual that they can put their power towards.

Here are a selection of posts you might want to read:


And if you want to be really paranoid about it, you could like other bits of information and become a serious conspiracy theorist. Like for example as the Washington Post reported in July that Google now holds several significant contracts to supply search and geospatial information to the U.S. government. In addition, White House records show that Google executives have been holding meetings with U.S. national security officials for undisclosed reasons.

If you wish to read more on this story – starting with the UK’s Daily Mail which has been one of the major advocates for the pursuit of Google on this subject – then follow some of these links.

I thank you for reading this piece.

Consumerwatchdog.org - http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/corporateering/articles/?storyId=35944
CNET Reporting - http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20005051-266.html
Daily Mail May 2010 - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1279178/Google-rapped-watchdog-spying-Britons-web-habits-mistake.html
The Truth or The Fight – Privacy Advocates http://www.thetruthorthefight.com/?p=6819
BNet (CBS) http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/daily-mail-london-england-the/mi_8002/is_2010_Oct_25/google-finally-admits-spying-computers/ai_n55860471/

Now - you can be afraid - very afraid....

1 comment:

Professor Sabena said...

Based on some additional information I have uncovered - I recommend that you read the two Google Posts that give you a view of what Google did and did not do (or so they say)

Start with this one - the original - "we goofed" memo.


First post followed by...


This is the revised version of the original statement.

If you are really geeky read the security audit report


then the latest one from Mr Eustace that has got everyone all hot and bothered.


NOTE that at no time did Google ever give a really good reason as to WHY they wanted to collect Wifi data. This is what they say as to why they were collecting Wifi data.

# WiFi network information: which we use to improve location-based services like search and maps. Organizations like the German Fraunhofer Institute and Skyhook already collect this information globally;

That's it... As if their very expensive ultra GPS laden cars were not enough. So this is practically speaking Bullshit