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Archive for April, 2011

29
Apr

Class action lawsuit filed against Google over Android tracking

About time:

Following a class-action suit brought by two Tampa men targeting Apple over alleged user tracking, Google is facing a similar class action lawsuit filed in Detroit on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in the Detroit suit evidently have a case of buyer’s remorse.

Last week developers also revealed that Android devices keep a similar cache of cell tower and WiFi data, though Android limits the amount of data to 50 recently accessed cell towers and 200 recently accessed WiFi networks. Like iOS devices, a person would need to “root” (similar to “jailbreaking”) an Android device to get the data, but in contrast to iPhones this data isn’t synced to a computer.

More disconcerting, however, is the fact that Android devices collect “its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour,” according to research by security expert Samy Kamkar. Google said it uses this data for a variety of uses, but unlike Apple, Android attaches a unique ID number to the data. While that ID number is effectively random and can’t be directly linked to a particular device or user, it is possible to analyze such data and correlate it to particular individuals using increasingly advanced “deanonymization” techniques.

Variety of uses, ha. That’s basically Google’s polite way of saying, we’re invading your privacy to monetize you because that’s the business model we think will make us billions.

Google is correct in one sense: People who are using Android are effectively “opting in” to Google’s surveillance regime. But the thing is, Google is not being upfront with people who are purchasing Android phones about the existence of the regime. Furthermore, what goes on inside of Google’s datacenters is a secret, so it’s hard to expose what Google is really up to.

Google claims to love open source. The reality is, Google only loves open source to the extent it can subjugate free software to expand its empire. Android and Chromium are just means to an end – the end being the ability to track millions of people.

Google does have several initiatives aimed at supporting open source projects, like Google Summer of Code. But Google’s business practices and policies are anything but open source. Google is a proprietary software company just like Apple or Microsoft.

The only difference is that Google is much, much better at being disarming towards people who support free software. (Microsoft has noticed this; it’s starting to copy Google’s tactics).

Just like Google Chrome, Android phones are loaded with proprietary spyware that phones home to Big Brother. Big surprise? Not to LGB, but not everyone scrutinizes Google as we do. Not everyone has the healthy skepticism that they should.

As of today, two concerned women from Detroit have joined the ranks of the skeptics. Good for them.

The initial pleadings are available from Archive.org in PDF format: Brown et al v. Google, Case #2:11-cv-11867.

15
Apr

Google CFO: “Everybody that uses Chrome is a guaranteed locked-in user, in terms of having access to Google”

Another week, another Freudian slip from a Google executive:

Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette noted that Chrome was being heavily invested in by the company because each user is a “locked-in”. “Everybody that uses Chrome is a guaranteed locked-in user, in terms of having access to Google,” was the actual quote.

LGB has said for years that the whole reason Google distributes Chrome is so it can more effectively spy on people. Google puts a lot of resources into constructing an appealing browser, based on open source software that they borrowed from KDE and other free software communities.

Then they put in their payload of spyware… which is proprietary (because if we could see how it works, we’d be able to see the extent of Google’s surveillance).

“Chrome OS” is all about taking the Chrome browser to the next level. If Google’s software is running the whole computer, everything a user does can be monitored by the Monster of Mountain View, and users can be quickly and easily exposed to new Google “services”. Pretty scary.

Towards the end of the call, a couple questions wondered if Google would be using Chrome as a way to alter search results or to introduce new products? This is a bit of a touchy subject since Google has been playing up Chrome as an “open” browser for the web (though technically it’s Chromium that is the open source version). None of the Google executives shot down these ideas and in fact, they played up these possibilities.

In other words, yes, Chrome could eventually be yet another way Google is following your movements online and using it to their advantage. Again, probably not the best way to answer those questions.

Not the best way to answer those questions? So they should be obfuscating their true plans and schemes? How can a tech journalist think that’s a good idea?

It’s good that they’re starting to be honest about their intentions, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. (Google’s execs seem to think the debate about privacy and security is over, despite the increasing attention they’re getting from governments and consumer watchdog groups).

10
Apr

Is Google spying on Twitter?

Lately, Google has been witnessing a mini-exodus of some of its best and brightest to younger technology companies in Silicon Valley, particularly Twitter and Facebook, which are smaller and less bureaucratic. Google’s attempts to stop younger companies from poaching its personnel appear to gotten more desperate, according to this report:

In at least one of the cases Google is said to have made a counteroffer before the employee even told Google they were considering an offer from Twitter.

We previously reported that Google had set up a special group to respond to these situations quickly, sometimes overnight. But we’ve never heard of Google making counter offers prior to the actual offer from Facebook or Twitter being made.

Multiple sources close to Twitter have said that someone with access to Twitter’s most confidential information, such as who they are interviewing for key executive spots, may be leaking that information directly to Google. In this case, Google may have acted on that information too quickly. And people at Twitter, say these sources, are steaming mad.

Twitter has long made the mistake of relying on Google for essential things like content delivery and document storage. (Famously, a few years ago, Twitter’s Google Apps account was compromised and information in it published by TechCrunch, the same blog that ran the report excerpted above).

Twitter should become self-sufficient and sever all ties with Google. There’s no reason for it to be in bed with the Monster of Mountain View.