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Archive for March, 2011


Want proof that Android isn’t truly open? Here you go!

Once again, Google is trying to have it both ways:

During a keynote presentation at Google’s IO developer conference last year, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra proclaimed that the search giant created Android in order to bring freedom to the masses and avoid a “draconian future” in which one company controlled the mobile industry. Looking past the self-congratulatory rhetoric, Android’s poor track record on openness is becoming harder to ignore.

The company revealed Thursday that it will delay publication of the Android 3.0 source code for the foreseeable future—possibly for months. It’s not clear when (or if) the source code will be made available. The decision puts Android on a path towards a “draconian future” of its own, in which it is controlled by a single vendor—Google.

The article goes on to deliver a scathing indictment of Google’s track record.

It really is worth reading all of the way through.

Android, as it presently exists, is *already* controlled by a single vendor, Google. The only reason that Android isn’t completely proprietary is that Google built it on top of a free software kernel and free software libraries. Otherwise, it would be, like Apple’s iOS.

As the Ars Technica article above makes clear, Google doesn’t care about providing timely access to source code… a central tenet of the free software movement. Google is only interested in free software to the extent that it can use it to grow its own empire.

That’s why Google hates the AGPL (Affero General Public License). The AGPL requires that an entity running free software over a network make the source code of that software available; it is identical to the regular GNU General Public License except for this clause.

The AGPL was written to prevent companies like Google from taking free software, making improvements to it, and using the improved software to deliver services using the SAAS business model, but refusing to give back to the community by releasing the source code of the improvements.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of free software is licensed under the AGPL – although usage has increased since 2007, when the Free Software License released Version 3 of the AGPL. For instance, StatusNet and Diaspora (free software projects that replicate Twitter and Facebook’s functionality in a federated fashion) are both licensed under the AGPL.


Google’s book scheme put on ice

Finally, somebody is telling Google NO:

The company’s plan to digitize every book ever published and make them widely available was derailed on Tuesday when a federal judge in New York rejected a sweeping $125 million legal settlement the company had worked out with groups representing authors and publishers.

The decision throws into legal limbo one of the most ambitious undertakings in Google’s history, and it brings into sharp focus concerns about the company’s growing power over information. While the profit potential of the book project is not clear, the effort is one of the pet projects of Larry Page, the Google co-founder who is set to become its chief executive next month. And the project has wide support inside the company, whose corporate mission is to organize all of the world’s information.

Fortunately, wide opposition outside of the company helped persuade Judge Denny Chin that the proposed settlement was not in the public interest. A broad coalition, including librarians, college professors, The Justice Department,, Microsoft, and Consumer Watchdog all opposed the settlement.

Consumer Watchdog issued a statement hailing the decision:

“Google’s entire business model is to never ask permission, but to seek forgiveness if necessary,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “Judge Chin has ruled simply that you can’t take other people’s property and use it without asking.  This should send the message to the engineers at the Googleplex that the next time they want to use someone’s intellectual property, they need to ask permission.”

Simpson noted that Judge Chin also found the deal raised antitrust problems.  Consumer Watchdog was among the first to oppose the agreement on those grounds and urged the U.S. Justice Department to intervene. Justice argued against the deal.

The Monster of Mountain View likes to claim that it is just trying to expand access to knowledge. In reality, it’s trying to gain control over created works and use them to make money. Thank goodness this most recent attempt by Google to extend its monopoly position has been thwarted.


France fines Google over Wi-Spy scandal

Good news:

Google must pay a fine of €100,000 (US$142,000) for the unauthorized collection of information about the location of Wi-Fi hotspots in France by its Street View cars, France’s National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) has ordered.

The cars, tasked with taking panoramic photos and 3D scans of buildings, and associating them with precise GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates for Google’s Street View service, also eavesdropped on Wi-Fi networks, recording their SSIDs (Service Set Identifiers) and MAC (Media Access Control) addresses, Google said last April, following an investigation by the data protection authority in Hamburg, Germany.

For too long now, the Monster of Mountain View and other big companies have faced no consequences or repercussions for their infringement of users’ privacy. Even people who don’t want to use Google products or services must take extra steps to prevent data about their activities from being collected by Google. That’s wrong. People shouldn’t have to spend hours figuring out how to “opt-out” of Google’s surveillance net. Surveillance should be prohibited without the explicit consent of the user.


National Federation for the Blind: Google Apps not usable by visually impaired people

Yet another reason why schools and other institutions should avoid Google Apps:

The NFB is asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to probe whether New York University and Northwestern University are discriminating against blind employees and students through their use of Google Apps’ Education edition.

Specifically, the NFB alleges that Google Apps applications like Gmail, Calendar and Docs contain “significant accessibility barriers” for blind people using screen access technology, which converts the contents of the computer screen into synthesized speech or Braille.

“The NFB will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against blind students and faculty and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education,” said Marc Maurer, the NFB’s president, in a statement.

The Monster of Mountain View has hoodwinked a number of universities into outsourcing their email and document storage to its datacenters. Tempted by the thought of having lower overhead and less maintenance to worry about, many administrators have accepted the offer without realizing the implications. And this is just one of the ramifications. Contrary to what Google says, Google Apps is not secure. Hackers have broken into corporate or institutional Google Apps accounts on a number of occasions. There was the well-publicized Twitter breach, and more recently, the HBGary Federal scandal. There have been others.

And, of course, there’s also consequences for user privacy. An academic institution that signs a pact with Google is basically surrendering its users’ privacy without their consent. Some institutions have, however, given students a choice of providers (meaning they can use a solution other than Google) and that is certainly appropriate. However, it appears there is no accessible alternative at New York and Northwestern Universities.