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Archive for October, 2013


Newest revelation from Snowden documents: The NSA has inflitrated Google’s datacenters

We have long suggested that Google’s war on privacy and mass collection of user data offers the National Security Agency “one stop shopping”. We were on the money: The NSA has been taking advantage of Google’s data-mining, co-opting it for their own purposes:

The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.

According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

This is hardly shocking news to us – again, it validates what we have said for years – but it causing a big stir, particularly in the tech blogosphere. It will be interesting to see how Google apologists respond to this one. Google itself claims it is not complicit:

We’re troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity. However, we have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.

Increased encryption is not a bad thing, but the fact remains that Google remains a juicy target for governments because of the vast amount of data is collecting and storing (permanently). We urge everyone who values their privacy to immediately begin taking steps to cut ties with Google. It is possible to leave Google behind and switch to providers that have better privacy policies and a healthy respect for users’ privacy. Our list of Google alternatives is long, and we urge people to make full use of it.


Use Google+? Your name and face might soon start appearing in advertising all over the Net

The war on privacy continues:

Google (GOOG) is tinkering with the ever-delicate balance between selling advertisements and creeping its users out. On Friday the company said it would begin including recommendations that Google+ users make in advertisements. The new policy kicks in on Nov. 11.

Here’s how it works: You use Google+ to rate some product or service. It turns out the company behind that product wants to advertise on Google. When the company purchases an ad, your friends will see a version that includes your photo along with what you said about the product.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because critics have been up in arms about a similar advertising scheme from Facebook (FB) called sponsored stories. The ads resulted in a class-action lawsuit, and the social network eventually had to pay a $20 million settlement and clarify its privacy settings. Inevitably, the clarification provoked another round of outrage.

Google’s plans clearly demonstrate what we have been saying for a long time: Google’s offerings are not really free. If you use Google offerings, you are the product. And if you accept Google’s defaults, your privacy gets disregarded whenever Google cooks up a new scheme for making money.

In this case, people who have signed up for Google+ but didn’t uncheck a certain box are going to be automatically enrolled in Google’s new advertising program. It’s opt-out, of course, because if it wasn’t, probably not many people would opt in. Google uses defaults to its advantages to wage its war on user privacy, and has done so remarkably well.

The New York Times has a smart, sassy take on this news… Google to Sell Users’ Endorsements:

Google on Friday announced that it would soon be able to show users’ names, photos, ratings and comments in ads across the Web, endorsing marketers’ products. Facebook already runs similar endorsement ads. But on Thursday it, too, took a step to show personal information more broadly by changing its search settings to make it harder for users to hide from other people trying to find them on the social network.

Those who don’t like the idea of being used as pawns by Google to make Internet advertising even more lucrative should leave Google behind. We’re here to help. Take a look around this site and begin making plans to break up with the Monster of Mountain View.


Google using Bermuda shell company to dodge taxes

Do no evil…. pay no taxes….

Google is moving even more money through a shell corporation in Bermuda—reaching a total of €8.8 billion ($11.91 billion) in 2012, 25 percent more than it did in 2011. By employing a legal yet ethically questionable practice, Google is saving itself billions in taxes worldwide.

The new figures were first reported by the Financial Times on Friday, citing “[recent] filings by one of Google’s Dutch subsidiaries.” This widespread strategy of moving money around involves two specific tactics known as the “Dutch Sandwich” and the “Double Irish.” (Ars obtained a copy of this filing, dated September 27, 2013, from an anonymous source.)

As the Times concluded, these disclosures mean “that royalty payments made to Bermuda—where the company holds its non-US intellectual property—have doubled over the past three years. This increase reflects the rapid growth of Google’s global business.”

Google’s tax avoidance practices may be good for Google’s bottom line, but they are not responsible. Companies that claim to be good corporate citizens don’t use tax loopholes and accounting tricks to dodge taxes on a grand scale like Google and other tech giants do.

Google, of course, is only following in the footsteps of companies like Microsoft and Apple, which also distribute proprietary software and dodge state and federal taxes in the United States, plus taxes overseas. These feats of tax avoidance are made possible by rigged tax codes, which allow chief financial officers to get their companies out of tax obligations, to the detriment of society. Is it any wonder that income inequality has gotten so much worse over the past few years? Companies like Google are prosperous and powerful, but they don’t pay what they owe. That means regular folks are left to foot more of the bill for infrastructure investments that companies like Google wish to see made.

If Google wants college to be affordable, or for fiber to reach more Americans, it ought to pay its taxes without complaining or shuffling money through shell companies.