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Archive for April, 2012


New York Times reveals identity of the technological mastermind behind the Wi-Spy scandal

“Engineer Doe” is no longer anonymous:

At the center of the uproar over a Google project that scooped up personal data from potentially millions of unsuspecting people is the company software engineer who wrote the code.

Google has declined to identify the engineer, as has the Federal Communications Commission. The F.C.C. recently closed its 17-month inquiry into the project, Street View, with a finding that Google broke no laws but had obstructed its investigation.

The agency also said it was unable to resolve all the issues it was considering because the engineer — whom it referred to in its report on the inquiry as Engineer Doe — cited his Fifth Amendment right and declined to talk.

Now a former state investigator involved in another inquiry into Street View has identified Engineer Doe. The former investigator said he was Marius Milner, a programmer with a background in telecommunications who is highly regarded in the field of Wi-Fi networking, essential to the project.

Who is Marius Milner? He is a talented engineer who still works for Google (in the YouTube division) and has been referred to by fellow hackers as a god. He developed a Windows-based utility called NetStumbler, popular with wardrivers, which excels at sniffing out wireless access points, including home routers. (A wardriver is a person who searches for wireless networks as a hobby).

Google has been attempting to shield Milner from public exposure, but now that he has been outed by the New York Times, they will no longer be able to do so. Milner has yet to be hit with litigation for his involvement in the Wi-Spy scandal. Google has contended in court that it spying, made possible in part thanks to Milner, was not unlawful and it should not be punished for invading the privacy of millions of people without their knowledge. We urge courts in every jurisdiction to find otherwise.


“GDrive” finally materializes as Google Drive

We’ve long suspected that at some point, Google would launch an online storage offering in competition with Dropbox,, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, iCloud, and Amazon Cloud Services. And now they have.

Google is taking the wraps off a long-anticipated product that it views as one of its most important launches of the year, as the Internet giant continues its push toward a future in which users’ photos, spreadsheets and other data primarily live on the Internet “cloud” instead of a PC or some other device.

The launch of “Google Drive” Tuesday has been a poorly kept secret in Silicon Valley, with the name and a rough description of the online storage product widely circulated in recent weeks as Google has worked out the final bugs. Drive will open up to millions of users around the world starting Tuesday, allowing them to sync their files between PCs, smartphones and tablets.

Google’s main intention with its new Drive offering, of course, is to take mining of personal information to a whole new level. With Drive, Google is going beyond its existing Gmail, Docs, YouTube, and Picasa offerings, and inviting users to upload pretty much everything they might normally keep on their desktops and laptops to its datacenters. The problematic user agreement Google created for Drive naturally does not provide adequate protections for the privacy and security of the people who use it:

While private files winding up on Google Drive may not be as privacy-protected as the ones on your hard disk, fact is that Google is not granting itself free rein to use personal data. But you’d be hard-pressed to know that given a “toxic brew” of conflicting claims found in the company’s omnibus privacy policy, according to a legal expert who has closely reviewed Google’s policies.

“The language is not drafted nearly as tightly as we would expect from a company of Google’s size and stature,” says Eric Goldman of the High Tech Law Institute. He describes the covenants as poorly written and likely to confuse users by virtue of Google mashing licensing and privacy statements together.

Several companies and media organizations have already warned their employees that Google Drive’s terms of service are problematic, and the offering should not be used.

We agree. Stay far, far away from Google Drive.

MORE FROM ARS TECHNICAGoogle Drive files can end up in ads, even though you still own them


Gmail goes down, again

Whole lotta people inconvenienced this morning:

Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, is being reported as offline for many people this morning.

The extent and cause of the outage isn’t known at the moment. It is not a complete outage, but Twitter is abuzz with reports from users unable to access the Web service.

Users seem to be reporting mostly outages in accounts. Users of Google business e-mail accounts (Google Apps) are also reporting issues. Google’s Apps status dashboard reports, “We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly.”

Other services, such as Google Docs and Google+, also appear unusable for those who are unable to access Gmail.

Google has tried to encourage the belief that its offerings have rock-solid reliability, but the truth is, they don’t. This isn’t the first Gmail outage, and it won’t be the last. There’s no good reason for anyone to trust the Monster of Mountain View with their email.


FCC fines Google for stonewalling

The Federal Communications Commission isn’t getting answers from Google (surprise, surprise!) in response to an inquiry launched as a response to the “Wi-Spy” scandal, so the agency has just hit the Monster of Mountain View with a fine.

It’s tantamount to a slap on the wrist, but at least it’s something.

Google Inc. (GOOG) “impeded” and “delayed” a U.S. inquiry into its data collection, according to the latest in a series of regulatory probes of the company’s privacy practices.

The Federal Communications Commission is seeking a $25,000 fine after examining how Google gathered personal e-mails, text messages and other materials through its Street View location service, the agency said in an April 13 filing. That is the maximum penalty for failure to cooperate with an investigation, Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an interview yesterday.

If only the FCC could tack on more zeros to the amount of the fine… maybe then Google would start to take the agency’s investigation seriously.


Wikipedia dumps Google Maps

Congratulations to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation:

Previous versions of our application used Google Maps for the nearby view. This has now been replaced with OpenStreetMap – an open and free source of Map Data that has been referred to as ‘Wikipedia for Maps.’ This closely aligns with our goal of making knowledge available in a free and open manner to everyone. This also means we no longer have to use proprietary Google APIs in our code, which helps it run on the millions of cheap Android handsets that are purely open source and do not have the proprietary Google applications.

OpenStreetMap is used in both iOS and Android, thanks to the amazing Leaflet.js library. We are currently using Mapquest’s map tiles for our application, but plan on switching to our own tile servers in the near future.

Foursquare and Apple have also recently ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap.