Robert McLaws: Windows Edition

Blogging about Windows since before Vista became a bad word

Google: The New Big Brother

In the 21st Century, information is power. So if one company has all the information, is it more powerful than our planet's governments?

Folks, there is a reason Google dropped their "Don't be evil" mantra for "Search, Ads, and Apps". Because their management has seen incredible amounts of money in the last few years, and we all know that money and power has the ability to corrupt people. And now that their old mantra is gone, there is little to stand in the way of their utter domination over the world's data.

Think I'm being extreme? Not according to today's Financial Times:

Asked how Google might look in five years’ time, Mr Schmidt said: “We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalization.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”

I hate to sound alarmist here, but this sounds like stuff straight out of The Matrix. We're all addicted to our computers enough as it is... do we really want to see the day when people need to ask their computer where they should work and what they should do? Yeah, THAT sounds like fun. But why not? We already have advertisers telling us what to buy, magazines telling us what to wear, and eHarmony.com telling us who we should marry. What makes this any different?

The reason why the American system of democracy works (well, I use the term loosely) is because power is distributed throughout the various levels of government, all the way down to the people. But for all the digi-rati intellectuals that say that information is the property of the people, those same people are off daydreaming an a utopian la-la land while Google executes their "stated mission to organize the world's information". These are the same people, by the way, who wouldn't give information to the government even if it stopped innocent people from being killed. Quite a mighty double-standard, don'cha think?

Speaking of double-standards, this is the same stuff that got Microsoft in so much trouble back in the day. You guys didn't allow it then, so why all of a sudden is it OK now? Mary Jo Foley's litmus test is the best: When looking at any new Google venture, swap out the word "Google" with "Microsoft" and ask yourself if you're still OK with what's happening. If you're no longer OK with it, then you have a problem.

I'm not just saying all of this because I am a "Microsoft fanboy". I think companies like Google, Apple, and others, while I dislike them personally, are necessary for a thriving and robust capitalist ecosystem of free market dynamics. As long as they play by the rules. But if they want to be able to suggest to me what I should do and where I should work, what stops them from using the same methodologies to determine if I'm a potential thief, murderer, sex offender, or terrorist, and automatically alert the authorities? Would you want Google putting you up on a watchlist just because you visit porn sites?

Blindness to the true goals of the people in power is what got Europe into hot water 60 years ago.  It's time to start putting some checks and balances into this system. Otherwise one day, you won't need Uncle Sam looking over your shoulder, cause Google will already have it covered.

UPDATE: I was just lamenting over the announcement that Google bought my favorite service FeedBurner (in line with their "ads and stats" acquisition strategy, being well on their way to total domination over my website's operation... and I discovered why Google does indeed have a double standard. It lies in this comment:

As long Google is sharing some money, I don’t bother about others.

So, it would be OK if the Microsoft monopoly controlled nearly every aspect of your personal information and habits, as long as they paid you for it. Gotcha.

Posted on May 22 2007, 07:27 PM by Robert McLaws
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Comments

  • Wesley Shephard said:

    Invoking Godwin's law in the post itself is somewhat dramatic when discussing a topic that deserves better than that. Google *is* in a position to have much more data than you would want, but you seem to be overlooking that ISPs are *already* in the position of being the "one stop shopping" mart for the government, if the government wanted to snoop.

    Every URL you visit has to pass through your ISP. Unless you are using some kind of encryption and proxy service, your ISP knows *far* more about you than google does. They have your e-mail too. Yet nobody seems to be up in arms about the fact that the government is asking for much more data retention on the ISP's part.

    For the good of the children, of course. Really, Google is redundent: they only have your search terms, your ISP knows everything you do.

    May 23, 2007 12:21 AM
  • Google does not just have your search terms. They just started a service where you can look an any webpage you've ever visited, if you have the Google Toolbar installed. Did you read the article I linked to in the FT?

    Yeah, I'd be concerned about my ISP. But my ISP does not have EVERYONE's data, just their subscribers. Google wants *everyone's* data so they can predict behavior, and my point is, what if they come up with an algorithm to predict who could be a sex offender based on the sites they visit, and proactively alert the police before you've committed a crime?

    May 23, 2007 12:30 AM
  • Bob Jones said:

    Google only has every users data ... just like your ISP.

    Don't sign up to Google if you don't like it!

    May 23, 2007 12:53 AM
  • Kishor Gurtu said:
    May 23, 2007 1:59 AM
  • Kuno Weiss said:

    I agree with you 100%. I believe Mr Schmidt and with him all senior Google execs along with Sergei and Larry should reevaluate whether this really is what we the people want. I really appreciate you telling it like it is. Bloggers like you and Mary Jo need to raise these issues, otherwise we do end up with something like 70 years ago in Europe.

    Go for it.

    May 23, 2007 3:18 AM
  • glennyboiwpg said:

    This is a perfect explanation as to why monopolys are bad.  Think about it... if we had a few good search engines out there, this wouldn't be an issue.  The same thing about operating systems. (to a point)

    Thats why sometimes, its good to stick with the underdogs.  Its the only thing we "little" people can do to help fix whats wrong with certain things.

    May 23, 2007 4:47 AM
  • Aaron said:

    Just dont use google if you're concerned with this.

    May 23, 2007 7:37 AM
  • Stef said:

    Monopolies? Microsoft has two : no matter how you want it, you have to deal with Windows and Office.

    Google? Just don't use it.

    Anyway, that was expected from a Microsoft apologist.

    May 23, 2007 9:18 AM
  • May 23, 2007 10:07 AM
  • Why the hell does being a "Microsoft apologist" mean that I can't have an opinion about other companies? I'd cry foul if Microsoft tried the same thing too, but Microsoft's privacy policies are a hell of a lot better now than Google's.

    May 23, 2007 1:11 PM
  • Peach said:

    I agree with you Robert - since when does being supportive of Microsoft mean you forfeit your right to question the practices of other companies? Hell, you can (and I'm sure you do) question Microsoft's practices too - the point here is that there is an insane double standard out there that holds Microsoft to a high standard of accountability while condoning, and even endorsing, questionable behavior by its competitors.

    And to those of you who say "just don't use Google" - I don't.  I voted with my feet on that company a long time ago. All Robert is doing is giving the masses information they can use to make an informed decision - and if that leads them to question their blind devotion to Google (and iPod, for that matter - what a horrible device that turned out to be, I traded mine in on an iRiver clix and have been as happy as a clam ever since) all the better.

    May 23, 2007 3:20 PM
  • mcepat said:

    "but you seem to be overlooking that ISPs are *already* in the position of being the "one stop shopping" mart for the government, if the government wanted to snoop."

    The government already snoops on ISP traffic, the NSA has been loosely documented and seen by employees of ISP's in building seperate rooms for a splitter to filter all traffic (example: ATT)

    It all started with the Patriot Information Act, they cast a big net now in the name of terrorism and us innocent fish will get caught in the net for sure

    check out the show Frontline did very very interesting, talks about the ATT NSA room

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/programs/info/2512.html

    its a eyeopener

    May 23, 2007 6:14 PM
  • bossalaus said:

    At some point, the government will establish a bureaucracy to oversee and log the transfer of information. Depending on whether or not the agency lasts, it may be attached to the Dept. of Homeland Security.

    The buck stops with Uncle Sam; no matter the alleged evil practices of current technology firms, the internet is another territory subject to concerns of national security.

    As we all know, the government always handles things worse than private companies: public schools, postal service, cheese.

    May 23, 2007 6:32 PM
  • Mattias said:

    "but Microsoft's privacy policies are a hell of a lot better now than Google's."

    What about the following link for privacy policies?

    http://www.newscientisttech.com/article.ns?id=mg19426046.400&feedId=being-human_rss20

    Also I remember some years ago when a friend and I wanted to give a newly released Windows version a try. Naturally we had some doubts about security so we placed it behind a linux firewall that blocked everything going in/out. The funny thing was that everytime one clicked  at the search function in the start menu the Windows box tried to connect to some servers hosted by Microsoft. Although we probably did not read all of the legal papers too carefully I am pretty sure there was nothing mentioned about sending info about my searches to Microsoft, how is that for privacy policy? But maybe I misread something somewhere.

    May 23, 2007 6:48 PM
  • The difference is, that stuff is not maintained through PII - Personally Identifiable Information. Google knows that YOU have gone to these sites and shows YOUR browsing history. Microsoft just uses behavioral patterns to make guesstimates, they don't link that data up to specific users on the back-end. At least, they donb't right now.

    And that demographic stuff is online right now at http://adlab.microsoft.com/DPUI/DPUI.aspx.

    May 23, 2007 8:37 PM
  • Wesley Shephard said:

    OK, I'm going to try this link again, since you felt the need to not accept my prior comment on the subject:

    http://www.newscientisttech.com/article.ns?id=mg19426046.400&feedId=being-human_rss20

    Microsoft is looking to do exactly what the article talks about Google doing: identifying *you* out of the data stream. Can you cry foul yet on Microsoft? Do you *honestly* believe that *either* company will treat you as a human being and respect your privacy more than the other?

    May 23, 2007 11:30 PM
  • Wes,

    No need to be snarky, I'm getting hit by about 100 spam comments an hour, so my anti-spam settings are set relatively high at the moment. Besides that, you posted the same link as the guy two comments earlier.

    "The computing giant is developing software that could accurately guess your name, age, gender and potentially even your location, by analysing telltale patterns in your web browsing history."

    The keywords there are "accurately guess". I have been well briefed on Microsoft's privacy policies, and they do not store information on their servers that can identify who you are on their back end. You're not an name to them, you're an ID. They may use cookies to correlate IDs to the broswer, but if the government subpoenaed Microsoft for the data on your usage, they wouldn't be able to track it.

    At least, that's how i've been briefed on it.

    May 24, 2007 1:56 PM
  • unda said:

    Google cannot be trusted with your data, and more than any of our other favorite corporate entities. They appear to have some interesting ties with the CIA in their staff and the original investment dollars used to start the company. Now these allegations aside, after seeing what happened when AOL "accidentally" released the search histories of huge amounts of users, should we trust ANY search engine? I recommend an alternative, like the Google scraper at http://www.scroogle.org/scraper.html.

    May 25, 2007 10:36 AM
  • Back at the beginning of this year, my 14 "Is Google Evil?" Tipping Points Since 2001 covered the history of how Google has been deemed to be too Big Brotherish or too dominant over the years. Another wave of Google hatred and fear is washing

    May 25, 2007 2:11 PM
  • May 27, 2007 1:10 AM
  • Google just got a whole lot more Big Brother-y . The big news this week was that Google introduced street-level

    May 31, 2007 1:48 AM
  • So the rumors were true . FeedBurner has been assimilated by the New Collective . Well isn't that just

    June 2, 2007 12:41 AM
  • June 21, 2007 9:05 AM
  • Kostas said:

    interesting

    July 9, 2007 3:31 AM
  • Basically nothing seems worth doing, but whatever.

    I just don't have anything to say recently, but eh. Not much on my mind right now, but that's how it is.

    August 1, 2007 7:01 AM
  • I've just been staying at home waiting for something to happen.

    More or less not much happening right now. I just don't have anything to say right now, but it's not important.

    August 3, 2007 11:21 AM
  • I haven't been up to anything recently. My life's been really boring lately.

    Whatever. Today was a complete loss. Basically nothing seems important.

    August 8, 2007 12:00 AM
  • I haven't been up to anything recently. My life's been really boring lately.

    Whatever. Today was a complete loss. Basically nothing seems important.

    August 9, 2007 11:14 PM
  • I just don't have much to say these days, but I guess it doesn't bother me.

    What can I say? I haven't been up to much these days.

    More or less nothing seems worth bothering with.

    August 11, 2007 1:21 PM
  • I can't be bothered with anything lately. Maybe tomorrow. Such is life.

    I haven't been up to much recently, not that it matters.

    Basically not much happening these days, but eh.

    August 17, 2007 6:59 AM
  • I've just been staying at home waiting for something to happen.

    I haven't gotten much done lately.

    My life's been completely bland lately, but so it goes. Not much on my mind these days.

    August 19, 2007 2:14 PM