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22
Oct

Google quietly kills ban on personally identifiable web tracking

Profit comes before people. It’s the Monster of Mountain View Way.

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

Props to ProPublica for blowing the whistle on this latest privacy-endangering move by Google.

Google probably wanted to make this move years ago, but may have held off because of the uproar over previous privacy imbroglios (like Google Buzz and the Wi-Spy scandal). Now, however, the behemoth has gone ahead and knocked down the wall preventing its advertising business from fully exploiting user data to build detailed profiles of everyone’s browsing.

There are ways to fight back. Stop using Google products, turn on adblock, disable JavaScript and cookies by default, use tools like the EFF’s Privacy Badger to monitor and block cross-site requests. Take advantage of these tools!

19
Sep

Report: Indonesia plans to stick Google with a big bill for back taxes and fines

Good!

Indonesia’s tax agency plans to bill Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit for up to $380 million in back taxes and fines that the search giant allegedly owes from 2015.

Muhammad Haniv, head of the tax office’s special cases unit, said in an interview that a team of four tax investigators met with Google’s Indonesian unit Monday, the latest escalation in a growing dispute between government and the technology firm. He said they discussed the alleged back taxes and audit of the unit’s tax compliance records.

“If we take this case to court, Google could be fined four times the tax it owes us,” Mr. Haniv said. He added that Indonesia will also pursue taxes from as far back as 2011, when Google first established a presence in the country. “Now we are still investigating them,” he said.

Google is a very wealthy firm. It can afford to pay its fair share in taxes in all the countries where it does business — Indonesia included. The authorities there are to be commended for not letting mammoth firms like Google escape from their obligations by taking advantage of tax loopholes and other tax avoidance tricks. Time for the Monster of Mountain View to pay up!

19
Sep

Google creates new “Trips” app so you can feed it your vacation plans

Ripping off BlackBerry Travel, Google has created an app that “takes details from your Gmail and puts them into an easy-to-view package so you can easily find your itinerary, hotel reservation, and get recommendations about what to do.” Presumably, the app will also allow you to add information not automatically gleaned from your email, allowing Google to know even more about what you’ve got planned.

PCWorld’s Derek Walter:

The impact on you: If you’ve used the travel powers of Google Now, you’ll find this feels like an upgrade to that service. Of course if you don’t use Gmail, then there’s a lot less reason for you to explore this. Google services work best when you’re all-in, which means that you have to decide where you fall with handing the company that much information.

That’s by design. But no one should want all their data in the hands of one for-profit company.

9
Jun

Analyst: Google plans to take Android proprietary

Surprise, surprise:

Google is preparing to seize control of Android with its own proprietary closed-source version of the mobile operating system, an analyst claims.

Technology analyst Richard Windsor says that a highly confidential internal project is underway to rewrite the ART runtime, removing any lingering dependencies from the freely downloadable open source AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code base.

This is a long-standing theme for Windsor, who most recently raised it here.

If Windsor’s right, Google Android will soon be just another fully-fledged proprietary operating system like its rival iOS (as well as Windows Phone and BlackBerry). Google has long pretended to be a company that believes in free software, but the truth is, Google is a proprietary software company that exploits free software and the free software community.

Windsor’s prediction, if fulfilled, will be the latest evidence of that.

30
May

Antitrust lawyer: Don’t Hand Our TVs Over to Google

Jonathan Kanter has a must-read column in today’s New York Times:

For years, Google has been jockeying to control the nation’s TVs. If, thanks to the F.C.C., Google succeeds, it will get access to the real prize: the data that flows through these boxes. The company wants that information to help it sell advertising. (Disclosure: I represent companies opposed to Google on other issues in the United States and Europe.)

The F.C.C.’s proposal would give Google free access to the raw TV programming data it needs to power its search engine for TV. In effect, Google could use the data to become the modern version of the program guide, connecting users to the TV shows and movies that Google’s search algorithms determine are relevant.

Kanter’s not opposed to new rulemaking allow set-top box innovation. But Kanter correctly observes that any new rules should not be written by Google, for Google, or to Google’s advantage.

If the F.C.C. provides Google with the data it needs to build its search-based set-top, it should take significant steps to prevent Google from continuing its questionable conduct. At a minimum, the F.C.C. should require Google to commit to search neutrality, transparency, adherence to privacy standards and restrictions on anticompetitive bundling. Without these conditions, a proposal meant to increase innovation may well stifle it.

LGB concurs and thanks Mr. Kanter for contributing this op-ed piece.

24
May

French police raid Google’s Paris offices

Well, well:

French police raided Google’s offices in Paris Tuesday, looking for evidence of money laundering and tax evasion.

The state prosecutor said specialist anti-corruption officers and 25 tech experts took part in the search. They were trying to establish the scale of Google’s business in France and to determine whether it has paid enough taxes.

French officials began investigating Google last June, after the country’s financial authorities accused it of dodging taxes. The prosecutor’s office said Tuesday the preliminary inquiry is looking into “aggravated financial fraud” and “organized money laundering.”

We wish the French authorities the best as they complete their investigation.

21
Apr

Google executive: Humans are inadequate without implanted nanobots

This is horrifying:

Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, isn’t so pragmatic. In fact, when you read what he said in a new interview with Playboy, you get the impression that humanity, to him, is a sad, low-level species.

“We have limited capacity in our brain,” he said. “It’s at least a million times slower than computational electronics.”

In essence, then, computers are sneering at our incompetence.

Ergo, Kurzweil declared, we need nanobots shoved inside our heads to turn us into, well, what? The sorts of humans Ray Kurzweil would rather hang out with? Or perhaps, as he once intimated, gods?

It gets worse:

“We’re merging with these nonbiological technologies,” he mused. “We’re already on that path. I mean, this little Android phone I’m carrying on my belt is not yet inside my physical body, but that’s an arbitrary distinction. It is part of who I am.”

To say this is futurism run amok would be an understatement. What nonsense! Smartphones, tablets, and personal computers are the latest iteration of something humans have had for millennia: tools. They are highly advanced tools, but tools nonetheless. Tools are not organisms. They are not alive. They’re not capable of feeling any emotion. They do not have a symbiotic relationship with humanity; they are creations of humanity.  They run on instructions conceived and supplied by humans. People in the future may choose to unnecessarily implant microchips into themselves out of a desire to become better, faster, or stronger, but if we get to that point, we’ll be in a pretty sad state as a species.

Kurzweil is wrong when he says his smartphone is “part of who I am”. That Android phone is actually just hardware and software that he’ll be replacing in the span of a few months with newer hardware and newer software. He’s an engineer, after all, and presumably, his daily driver changes often since he’s the head of engineering for the Monster of Mountain View.

Kurzweil’s vision of the future is dark and disturbing, and ought to be rejected. Just because humanity is capable of doing something doesn’t mean it should.

23
Jan

Google beneficiary of sweetheart tax deal in the United Kingdom

Special treatment from the Monster of Mountain View from Her Majesty’s Government:

An agreement for US firm Google to pay £130m in UK back taxes has been labelled as “derisory” and a “sweetheart deal” by critics.

The payment covers money owed since 2005 and follows a six-year inquiry by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

George Osborne hailed it as “a victory” for the government, but Labour’s John McDonnell said the sums were “trivial”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said it was “a small amount of money” for Google.

The Tax Justice Network asserts that Google should be paying at least £200 million a year in taxes. The sum of £130 over ten years thus amounts to chump change for one of the world’s largest and most profitable technology companies.

10
Nov

Millions upon millions of Android devices are vulnerable to remote hijacking

Oops:

Last month, Chinese security researchers uncovered a security vulnerability in an Android software library developed by the Chinese search giant Baidu, and when it comes to security vulnerabilities, this one’s a whopper. It allows an attacker to remotely wreak all sorts of havoc on someone’s phone, from sending fake SMS messages to downloading arbitrary files to installing other apps without the user’s authorization.

The widespread deployment of the vulnerable software library makes things even worse. The library, known as the Moplus SDK, is used by over 14,000 separate Android apps. By some estimates, as many as 100 million unique Android devices were vulnerable.

Google also shares responsibility for this vulnerability due to its all-or-nothing permissions regime:

Google is worried that giving users a choice about which apps are communicating about them could put a dent in their lucrative advertising business. After all, a flashlight app without Internet access can’t display ads.

The problem is that security and privacy are two sides of the same coin. By refusing to give users a choice about whether or not apps have Internet access, Google is putting its users at risk and sending the message that it cares more about its bottom line than its users’ security.

Fortunately for Google, this is an easy fix—just include Internet access as one of the permissions apps have to request in the next version of Android. Otherwise, Moplus SDK won’t be the last major Android security catastrophe.

We rather doubt that the Monster of Mountain View is going to put users ahead of profits. That would jeopardize the golden gravy train of advertising, and Google certainly doesn’t want that.

 

28
Oct

Oops: Google Fiber goes out in Kansas City as World Series starts

Turns out Google is no better at being an ISP than traditional ISPs:

Alphabet’s Internet and TV service Google Fiber went out in Kansas City as the opening game of baseball’s championship series got going.

“Tonight, some Google Fiber customers in Kansas City experienced a service outage,” a Google spokesperson said via e- mail. “We’re working hard to make sure our customers can enjoy the rest of the World Series, and we’ll provide more details as soon as we can. We apologize for this interruption on an important night.”

Ah, the dreaded service outage. Comcast knows a thing or two about those. Are you sure you want to be in the business of providing Internet to firms and households, Google? Sure, that might make it easier to spy on them. But there are tradeoffs. You’ve got to keep the bits flowing… or people get cranky.