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Archive for April, 2010

30
Apr

It doesn’t get any richer than this: Google engineers quitting Facebook over privacy concerns

No, this is not an April Fool’s joke:

In the wake of Facebook’s F8 conference this week, where it apparently bid to become the new Sheriff of the Internet, Facebook’s plans to effectively put ’social’ into the very structure of the Web has a few people a little concerned.

The main issue is that there are concerns that Facebook, by default, now opts you in to allowing third party sites like Yelp to ‘personalise’ your experience, and there are questions about how much information is given away.

The result is that lots of geeks are considering leaving Facebook, and perhaps even more interestingly, veritable droves of Google software engineers are among them.

Maybe those engineers should consider finding another place to work in addition to decamping from the world’s largest social network. The Monster of Mountain View is far more invasive and pervasive than Facebook, with its array of spyware-laden products and services. Most people have no idea that they’re being tracked by Google Adsense and Google Analytics as they surf the Web. Adsense and Analytics are embedded into so many websites now that it’s become more unusual to stumble across a website without them than one with them.

Facebook is merely following in Google’s footsteps. That doesn’t excuse the company’s behavior, but it’s clear who their bad role model is.

The engineers deactivating Facebook accounts as a user privacy protests aren’t the only hypocrites working at Google. A few years ago, the Monster of Mountain View blacklisted CNET for publishing a story in which it demonstrated how easy it was to find information about a person by using Google. The person CNET chose to be its example?

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is evidently obsessed with his own privacy whilst not caring that his company invades the privacy of millions of people.

25
Apr

Google "Street View" has got your number

Too many people naively think that they're anonymous when using the Internet. Truth is, as far as Google is concerned, nobody should be anonymous. The Monster of Mountain View is doing everything it can to make privacy an ideal of yesterday:

Google's roving Street View spycam may blur your face, but it's got your number. The Street View service is under fire in Germany for scanning private WLAN networks, and recording users' unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses, as the car trundles along.

Germany's Federal Commissioner for Data Protection Peter Schaar says he's “horrified” by the discovery.

“I am appalled… I call upon Google to delete previously unlawfully collected personal data on the wireless network immediately and stop the rides for Street View,” according to German broadcaster ARD.

Schaar might be horrified, but given what we know about how Google operates already, we're not. We're simply not surprised at all.

We have to give Germany propos for having a Federal Commissioner for Data Protection. The United States – where Google is headquartered – really needs one of those. The Federal Trade Commission is a joke. It doesn't keep pace with Google at all. And that allows Google to get away with things like this.

1
Apr

When will Google ever stop!?

The EFF reports that Google has embarked upon another creepy project:

Lawyers from EFF warned this week of the implications of Google Sidle, a new beta product the company describes as, “Bringing our mission of organizing the world's information to your cafeteria,” but which one EFF lawyer described as, “Creepy, even for Google.”

Companies and schools subscribing to Sidle will have the convenience of not having to bus their own trays in exchange for allowing Google-nominated “Foodlers” to review leftovers for what the company describes as “analysis intended to improve food offerings and better target future nourishment.” Customers can later visit personalized webpages describing what they didn't eat and how tasty it turned out to be.

“Google's business model has always relied on collating all the great free stuff on the Internet — stuff that you might otherwise have missed,” said the official blog entry announcing the service. “Our maintenance staff noticed a lot of free food in our award-winning restaurants was going to waste. After that insight, it only took Google engineers a few weeks to take the benefits of our foraging to millions. It also gives our hungry Googlers (or 'hungrooglers,' as we fondly refer to them) the opportunity to sample cafeteria food from around the country.”

While initially cautious beta-testers have been reportedly swayed by the bright primary colors of the mu-mus early “Foodlers” have worn, privacy experts warn that new Sidle customers may be giving away more than they realize.

“Consumers should ask themselves some hard questions about this free service,” said Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “such as 'Why don't these people just buy their own food,' 'Where do they take this stuff,' 'Why do they wear those gloves when they're taking it,' and, most importantly, 'Why do they keep staring at me while I'm trying to eat?'”

Even some employees within Google are said to have concerns about how much pre-launch testing the new, experimental service has undergone. “Usually we extensively self-trial these new social networking features within the organization,” said one anonymous source, “but as soon as the Sidle people started talking about 'dogfooding,' everyone just stopped sitting near them at lunch.”

Sidle is reportedly a “20% project,” a unique Google custom where the 20% of the engineers with the poorest socialization skills are put to work on projects that management does not closely supervise and can retrospectively deny all knowledge of. Other 20% projects have included the “GTalk Slightly Too Loudly” instant messaging client that relayed private conversations to the Google search index (as well as everyone else in the room), and the extremely short-lived “Google Boggle Ogle
Goggles (Street View Edition).”

Seemed like it might be real for a minute, didn't it? Happy April Fools' Day!