Alphabet’s Internet and TV service Google Fiber went out in Kansas City as the opening game of baseball’s championship series got going.
“Tonight, some Google Fiber customers in Kansas City experienced a service outage,” a Google spokesperson said via e- mail. “We’re working hard to make sure our customers can enjoy the rest of the World Series, and we’ll provide more details as soon as we can. We apologize for this interruption on an important night.”
Ah, the dreaded service outage. Comcast knows a thing or two about those. Are you sure you want to be in the business of providing Internet to firms and households, Google? Sure, that might make it easier to spy on them. But there are tradeoffs. You’ve got to keep the bits flowing… or people get cranky.
Michael Larabel, who runs the well-known free software news and reviews hub Phoronix, has a post up about an awful experience he recently had with Google-owned Nest’s Protect, a souped-up, Internet-connected smoke detector. Larabel writes:
Earlier this year I wrote about protecting our Linux test farm with the Nest Protect. While I own ten of these “high tech smoke detectors” and initially recommended, I no longer trust them after a long night.
In the middle of the night I was alerted to “smoke in the bedroom” by all ten Nest Protects going off with the alert and siren, plus alerts going into mine and Fataima’s phone. Quickly investigating, there was no smoke to be found in the bedroom or any other room… Nor anything resembling smoke or any other causes for concern. The fire alarms tied to the security system also hadn’t sensed any smoke.
The unit continued to malfunction:
At first pushing the Nest button I thought the silencing worked, but nope, it came back to broadcasting across all of the Nest devices that there was smoke — when there was not. I disconnected that particular Nest Protect from the AC power, took it to another room, still reported smoke. Putting the Nest Protect in a kitchen pot with lid still claimed of smoke and produced warnings… This particular Nest unit was bought just earlier this year and was going insane in the middle of the night.
In the end, Larabel says he had to resort to a sledgehammer (literally) to shut the Nest Protect up. He still doesn’t know what caused the Google-made device to go crazy, and is going to let Nest know what happened. He would be wise to stay away from Nest gizmos in the future.
Larabel is not the only person to have encountered this problem. There is a video on Google-owned YouTube, posted by a Google employee, documenting a malfunctioning Nest Protect. Video creator Brad Fitzpatrick says, “Do not buy a Nest Protect. You will regret it. You can stop or mute this video if it’s annoying, but you cannot stop a Nest.”
Google’s search engine is displaying Frankenstein-esque characteristics. Like the fictional scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who created a monster more powerful than its master, Google’s algorithm designed to rid the Internet of spammy links is proving difficult, if not impossible, to control.
In June, CNBC.com reported on a Google algorithm called Panda that crawls the Web to periodically push what the search provider considers lower-quality sites down in the rankings while elevating better pages. The result is that some small Web businesses that rely on Google for traffic can be decimated overnight.
The whole article is worth a read.
Many people consider Google to be synonymous with “search” because it’s all they know. It’s their default. In reality, there are superior search engines out there. Bing, Blekko, and DuckDuckGo all offer a superior experience and better results than Google does. DuckDuckGo in particular has grown in popularity because of its explicit promise not to track its users. There’s no good reason to use Google for search when there are alternatives that do the job better and don’t snoop on you.
Dear Google: What’s wrong?
I ask because last weekend, while in San Francisco, I asked Google Maps for “hot chocolate mission” – and was promptly directed to an ARCO station in Fremont, 40 miles away. Similarly, last month I searched for “coffee” while in the Embarcadero Center, one of the denser coffee hotspots in America, and was sent to a Starbucks more than two miles away. And it hasn’t escaped my notice that you keep highlighting faraway places with Zagat listings over much closer places without.
Now, sure, if you’re thinking “hey, you’re just abusing your position as a highfalutin tech columnist to make anecdotal complaints here!” – well, you’re not entirely wrong. Perk of the position. What can I say? But Google Docs won’t save documents, the new Gmail interface still feels like a big step backwards, Gmail Offline keeps crashing on me, Google Hangouts hangs whenever we try to combine text chat and video…and for what it’s worth, it’s not just me who’s wondering what’s gone wrong:
Pop quiz: name a Google product that existed at this time last year that has improved in the last 12 months.—
Laurie Voss (@seldo) October 15, 2013
What’s wrong is that Google is a company focused on mining user data, not bettering people’s lives. Google is not a nonprofit or a charity. It’s not a force for good in the world. It’s a privacy-destroying, profit-making enterprise.
Evans ought to try out alternative search engines, email providers, and smartphone platforms. He might be surprised to discover there’s a wider world beyond the GoogleNet.
Gmail and and many other Google offerings are down, and that’s got people upset:
Google’s Gmail experienced an outage this morning, with some users reporting that the problem extended to the search giant’s Chrome browser as well.
“We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly,” Google wrote in a 12:30 p.m. Eastern note on its Google Apps status dashboard.
Google categorized the problem as a “service disruption” rather than a “service outage.”
Gmail started experiencing problems around noon Eastern. At PCMag, Gmail failed to load, and then produced a 502 error page. “The server encountered a temporary error and could not complete your request,” the error noted. “Please try again in 30 seconds. That’s all we know.”
This is a disruption *and* an outage. Google can try to sugercoat the downtime all it wants; it’s still downtime.
People who don’t know better and use Google’s Chrome browser have also reported a spike in browser crashes this morning. That actually doesn’t seem strange, because Chrome is tied to Google’s centralized offerings. If Google servers go down and can’t synchronize or communicate with the Chrome client (Chrome could be more accurately called a client than a browser, considering how Google’s aim has been to turn it into a gateway to its offerings) that could cause Chrome to malfunction or quit working.
This outage is a good reminder that there are better alternatives out there. Cut ties with the Monster of Mountain View and switch away if you care about your privacy and the security of your data.
More trouble for Google in Europe: The Monster of Mountain View is being sued by the spouse of a former German leader who is upset that the search giant’s autocomplete feature suggests demeaning terms like prostitute and escort when her name is typed in. She’s going to court demanding that Google do something about this, and it’s possible she just might win.
Despite Google’s past court victories, this case isn’t necessarily clear-cut, says Thomas Nuthmann, a lawyer at German law firm JBB Rechtsanwaelte. “Under German law, it’s likely that, at the very least, once Google knows that its autocorrect is generating results that present Frau Wulff in a bad light, they become responsible for making changes in her specific case,” he says, adding that, in Germany, famous people have the same protection against defamation as regular people when it comes to their private lives (unless they purposely make their private lives public). “It doesn’t mean [Google has] to shut down its technology altogether—just that it would have to at least disable the results linking words like ‘prostitute’ and ‘Bettina Wulff.’”
It;s unlikely such a lawsuit would ever be filed against Google in the United States. But of course, European law is different. If Google wishes to operate in Europe, it must abide by European law.
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 Gmail.com 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.
The City of Los Angeles made a big mistake when it decided to do business with the Monster of Mountain View. Now the city is trying to get a partial refund from Google because some of its departments refuse to use Google’s insecure Apps offering:
Two years after the City of Los Angeles approved a $7.25 million deal to move its e-mail and productivity infrastructure to Google Apps, the migration has still not been completed because the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies are unsatisfied with Google’s security related to the handling of criminal history data.
Los Angeles officials originally expected to roll Google Apps out to its 30,000 users by June 2010, in partnership with systems integration contractor CSC. But that number has been reduced to about 17,000 employees, largely because of security objections raised by the LAPD and other safety-related departments. Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog opposed the deal, and this week released a letter LA officials sent to CSC in August, which states “The City is in receipt of your letter dated May 13, 2011, wherein CSC indicates that it is unable to meet the security requirements of the City and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for all data and information, pursuant to U.S. DOJ Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) policy requirements.”
Google has a poor reputation when it comes to privacy and security. That’s because Google’s business model is built on collecting as much user data as possible and monetizing it. Google’s response to security problems has been to collect even more personal information; these days, Gmail users are asked to associate their mobile phone numbers with their Google accounts, all in the name of improved security.
Of course, if a person who uses only GoogleTech loses their Android phone, their email, contacts, web history, and so much more could all be compromised simultaneously. That’s the danger of trusting one company with your data.
The New York Times has another tale of Google crowdsourcing gone awry. It seems that some people are using a “feature” on Google Places to falsely report that a competing business has closed up shop and gone away. It’s a system that’s easily abused:
In mid-August, a search consultant and blogger named Mike Blumenthal was so rankled by what he considered Google’s cavalier attitude to closings on Google that he committed an act of online disobedience: He “closed” Google’s offices in Mountain View, Calif. For a brief period, Google itself was “reportedly closed,” according to Places. “I did it to point out how annoying this is when it happens,” he said.
Excellent, Mike. Most excellent!
On Aug. 15, Mr. Blumenthal posted a screen shot of Google’s Places page “reportedly closed,” noting that it took just two people — him and a friend — to pull off this stunt. It seemed to get the company’s attention. At least one change to closings on Places has already been made. Since late August, a business that is newly tagged “permanently closed,” receives an alert via e-mail from Google, informing the business owner of the change.
The New York Times article ends, however, by noting that some frustrated business owners have been unable to get the Monster of Mountain View to remove malicious “closed” and “permanently closed” notices despite repeated emails and phone calls. Why does that not surprise us?
Some years ago, free software pioneer Richard Stallman penned an essay asking users, “Can You Trust Your Computer?” He wrote:
Who should your computer take its orders from? Most people think their computers should obey them, not obey someone else. With a plan they call “trusted computing”, large media corporations (including the movie companies and record companies), together with computer companies such as Microsoft and Intel, are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you. (Microsoft’s version of this scheme is called Palladium.) Proprietary programs have included malicious features before, but this plan would make it universal.
In the past, these were isolated incidents. “Trusted computing” would make the practice pervasive. “Treacherous computing” is a more appropriate name, because the plan is designed to make sure your computer will systematically disobey you. In fact, it is designed to stop your computer from functioning as a general-purpose computer. Every operation may require explicit permission.
Emphasis is LGB’s.
Google has now officially joined the league of companies engaged in what Richard justifiably calls treacherous computing schemes. The Monster of Mountain View is planning to debut a device it calls the Chromebook, which is basically a dumbed-down laptop running Google software which obeys Google instead of the user it supposedly belongs to. H-Online notes:
It is currently unclear if the Chromebooks will have a “developer” switch on them as Google’s CR-48 device did; the switch allowed users to install different operating systems or modified versions of Chrome OS on the device. Chromebooks are designed to use the TPM chips on the motherboard to perform a Verified Boot on the device and if it detects tampering, it will replace the installed operating system with a known good instance automatically; the developer switch on the CR-48 prevented that from happening.
In other words, the hardware in the “Chromebooks” has been intentionally designed to prevent hacking. (Hacking, in the traditional sense, refers to a user’s freedom to tinker, it doesn’t mean harming anybody else’s equipment or services). Somebody who buys a Chromebook is thus not free to repurpose the hardware and use it for something else, because Google has programmed the motherboard to obey Google and not the user.
Even if the “Chromebooks” do contain a “developer switch” like the CR-48 prototype did, there’s no justification for putting hardware-based digital restrictions management into a computer.
Of course, the rationale for the restrictions is simple. Google wants to be sure that people who buy “Chromebooks” use them to access Google products and services.
That way, Google can continually spy on their “customers”.
Google’s behavior here is simply more proof that it is no better than Microsoft or Apple, the leading proprietary software companies (or Electronic Arts, which has stopped selling games and now only rents them out). But unlike Apple or Microsoft, Google is using free software to advance the evil of treacherous computing. What they are doing is outrageous and immoral.
It is time for the free software movement to rise up against Google and recognize it as the greedy, freedom-undermining, privacy-destroying corporation that it is.