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Posts from the ‘War on Privacy’ Category


Google quietly kills ban on personally identifiable web tracking

Profit comes before people. It’s the Monster of Mountain View Way.

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company’s “number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products.”

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick’s massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand – literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits “may be” combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

Props to ProPublica for blowing the whistle on this latest privacy-endangering move by Google.

Google probably wanted to make this move years ago, but may have held off because of the uproar over previous privacy imbroglios (like Google Buzz and the Wi-Spy scandal). Now, however, the behemoth has gone ahead and knocked down the wall preventing its advertising business from fully exploiting user data to build detailed profiles of everyone’s browsing.

There are ways to fight back. Stop using Google products, turn on adblock, disable JavaScript and cookies by default, use tools like the EFF’s Privacy Badger to monitor and block cross-site requests. Take advantage of these tools!


Google creates new “Trips” app so you can feed it your vacation plans

Ripping off BlackBerry Travel, Google has created an app that “takes details from your Gmail and puts them into an easy-to-view package so you can easily find your itinerary, hotel reservation, and get recommendations about what to do.” Presumably, the app will also allow you to add information not automatically gleaned from your email, allowing Google to know even more about what you’ve got planned.

PCWorld’s Derek Walter:

The impact on you: If you’ve used the travel powers of Google Now, you’ll find this feels like an upgrade to that service. Of course if you don’t use Gmail, then there’s a lot less reason for you to explore this. Google services work best when you’re all-in, which means that you have to decide where you fall with handing the company that much information.

That’s by design. But no one should want all their data in the hands of one for-profit company.


Google executive: Humans are inadequate without implanted nanobots

This is horrifying:

Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, isn’t so pragmatic. In fact, when you read what he said in a new interview with Playboy, you get the impression that humanity, to him, is a sad, low-level species.

“We have limited capacity in our brain,” he said. “It’s at least a million times slower than computational electronics.”

In essence, then, computers are sneering at our incompetence.

Ergo, Kurzweil declared, we need nanobots shoved inside our heads to turn us into, well, what? The sorts of humans Ray Kurzweil would rather hang out with? Or perhaps, as he once intimated, gods?

It gets worse:

“We’re merging with these nonbiological technologies,” he mused. “We’re already on that path. I mean, this little Android phone I’m carrying on my belt is not yet inside my physical body, but that’s an arbitrary distinction. It is part of who I am.”

To say this is futurism run amok would be an understatement. What nonsense! Smartphones, tablets, and personal computers are the latest iteration of something humans have had for millennia: tools. They are highly advanced tools, but tools nonetheless. Tools are not organisms. They are not alive. They’re not capable of feeling any emotion. They do not have a symbiotic relationship with humanity; they are creations of humanity.  They run on instructions conceived and supplied by humans. People in the future may choose to unnecessarily implant microchips into themselves out of a desire to become better, faster, or stronger, but if we get to that point, we’ll be in a pretty sad state as a species.

Kurzweil is wrong when he says his smartphone is “part of who I am”. That Android phone is actually just hardware and software that he’ll be replacing in the span of a few months with newer hardware and newer software. He’s an engineer, after all, and presumably, his daily driver changes often since he’s the head of engineering for the Monster of Mountain View.

Kurzweil’s vision of the future is dark and disturbing, and ought to be rejected. Just because humanity is capable of doing something doesn’t mean it should.


The Monster strikes again: Google to give marketers the ability to target people via email address

The latest salvo in Google’s never-ending war on privacy has just been fired. Via Naked Security:

Let’s say you’ve joined a travel company’s rewards program. In doing so, you handed over your email address.

As you plan your next trip, maybe you’ll do a Google search on “non-stop flights to new york,” much to the delight of the advertising-engorged company.

If you’re logged in to any Google account, you may very well see ads from that same travel company, whether you’re watching your favorite videos on YouTube, running a Google search or catching up on your Gmail inbox.

Google’s Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy, announced a new tool that will enable that advert penetration – Customer Match – in a post on Sunday.

Customer Match will enable advertisers to get to us via our email addresses, which can be matched to signed-in users of its search engine, Gmail or YouTube in what the company says is a “secure and privacy-safe way.”

There’s no such thing as secure, privacy-safe targeted marketing, just as there’s no such thing as clean coal. They’re oxymorons. Targeted marketing is, by its very nature, intrusive. It has to be.

Facebook and Twitter already sell targeted ads. Google has long wanted to be in that game, but has held off. Until now, that is. Now, they’re going to allow advertisers to upload lists of email addresses and sell those advertisers targeted access to users of their YouTube and Gmail properties, as The Wall Street Journal reported months ago.

In its early years, Google was described as a search engine, and Google is still synomous with search today. But while Google may have been search-focused as a startup, it is today a mature advertising company with some curious sibling businesses. Undercutting privacy is part of Google’s business model. Google’s so-called free offerings aren’t really free at all. The price people to pay to use Gmail, YouTube, and other Google products is the surrender of their privacy.


Big Brother Google gets into the business of making and selling routers

When it comes to hardware and software, there’s pretty much no device category or software segment the Monster of Mountain View doesn’t want to play in:

Google is making a Wi-Fi router as part of its ambition to provide better Internet connections that make it easier for people to access its digital services and see more of its online advertising.

Pre-orders for the $199 wireless router, called OnHub, can be made beginning Tuesday at Google’s online store, and The device will go on sale in stores in the U.S. and Canada in late August or early September.

Google is touting the cylinder-shaped OnHub as a leap ahead in a neglected part of technology.

The Mountain View, California, company is promising its wireless router will be sleeker, more reliable, more secure and easier to use than other long-established alternatives made by the Arris Group, Netgear, Apple and other hardware specialists. Google teamed up with networking device maker TP-Link to build OnHub.

This is supposed to be an Associated Press news article? It reads more like a press release!

This being a Google product, it comes with spyware built right in.

Google is pledging not to monitor any of the information transmitted over OnHub except for visits to its search engine or other services, such as YouTube or Gmail, with the user’s online privacy controls set to permit the data collection.

That’s a worthless pledge. Google predictably exempts itself from its own privacy promise, then says, don’t worry, we won’t spy on you when you visit non-Google websites.

We here at LGB prefer not to be spied on by Google at all, and that’s why we don’t use any Google hardware or any of Google’s online offerings.

Good software already exists for upgrading routers, like DD-WRT, for those unsatisfied by what’s provided by the manufacturers of their networking hardware. Most Internet users get their router from their Internet service provider and won’t have any desire to pay Google for the privilege of having a new router that phones home to Mountain View. Tech-savvy users are the only conceivable market for OnHub, and they already have better options right now.

POSTSCRIPT: Ars Technica has a brutal review of the OnHub, which it calls a “mystery box”.


Google becomes a wireless carrier – or more specifically, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)

The Monster of Mountain View has entered another market. Now it wants to be your wireless carrier:

Google has just launched the site for “Project Fi,” its heavily rumored MVNO service. The service combines Sprint and T-Mobile along with Wi-Fi and will seamlessly switch between the networks. Google has an interactive coverage map here.

The up-front pricing seems pretty standard. It requires a “Fi Basics” plan, which is $20 a month for unlimited talk and texting, plus taxes. Data is an additional $10 per gigabyte a month. So a $20 basics plan plus 3GB a month would be $50, $5 more than Straight Talk charges for the same thing—but that’s only if you actually use the data. The unique aspect of the billing is that you “never pay for unused data.” Your account gets credited, in money, for data you don’t use. The example shows an unused 0.6GB of data gets you $6 back, so credits aren’t limited to 1GB increments; overages work the same way, with no extra fees. Google also allows Wi-Fi tethering.

For the time being, the “service” is only available to people who buy a Nexus 6 device through Google. And it’s worth noting that Google did not build its own network infrastructure to become a wireless carrier – it’s piggybacking on T-Mobile and Sprint,  the two smaller national carriers, with both companies receiving financial compensation in return. But, as with past Google experiments, it’s the beginning of something Google wants to make bigger.

It’s not enough for Google to be dominant in search and mobile advertising. It wants to dominate in every area that it can. Google wants to be the provider of your browser, desktop operating system, mobile operating system, Internet service, DNS service, email, and everything else.

Jackdaw’s founder has some observations on what Google may trying to accomplish in the near term with Project Fi.


Google begins selling domains itself through a “small private beta”

Demonstrating once again that there is no market in the online realm that it doesn’t want a piece of, Google has begun selling domains directly in what TechCrunch reports is a “small private beta”. That means Google isn’t allowing just anybody to buy a domain through them. But that could soon change. After all, Gmail began as a small private beta, and then a larger invitation-only beta, and eventually anyone was allowed to sign up and create an account.

For the past few years, anyone looking to Google to buy a domain has been met with this support page, which proclaims that “Google itself doesn’t register or host domain names,” before recommending up a few partners who do.

That changes today.

Google has just launched a small private beta for a domain registration service that it’s aptly dubbed “Google Domains.” You can find the largely locked down landing page for the service here.

And talk about timing: On June 9, GoDaddy finally filed for the IPO that it’s been mulling since at least 2006. Two weeks later, Google publicly announces plans to get into the domain registration market. Up until now, GoDaddy was even one of the partners that Google recommended. That can’t feel great.

No it can’t, but GoDaddy is hardly a responsible or ethical company either. Fortunately, GoDaddy has competitors that are… Namecheap and Tucows/Hover.

Google’s experimentation with selling domains is predictable. An unstated goal of Google is to be everyone’s provider and filter for everything: browser maker, email provider, repository for storage of documents and data, DNS provider, operating system distributor, search and ecommerce portal… the list goes on and on. At this point, Google is competing with just about every firm that sells software or support for software. Google’s specialty is entering markets and corralling market share over time; consider how Google Search, Gmail, and Chrome became ubiquitous. And, like Amazon, it is increasingly getting into hardware itself, too, making it a bigger competitor with Microsoft’s traditional partners and Apple.

There has never been a better time to leave Google behind and cut ties with the Monster of Mountain View. Users should free themselves from Google dependence and discover what the Web has to offer.


Google gobbles up Dropcam through its new Nest subsidiary

The Monster of Mountain View has made another acquisition. Through its new Nest subsidiary, it has purchased startup home surveillance equipment maker Dropcam.

Dropcam, the popular home monitoring camera startup, will be acquired by Nest, maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors. The deal is worth $555 million in cash.

Of course, Nest itself was just bought by Google four months ago for $3.2 billion. It is undertaking the acquisition itself, outside of Google. Dropcam will be folded into Nest’s brand, company culture and privacy policy, said Matt Rogers, Nest co-founder and VP of engineering, in an interview Friday.

“The teams are very well-aligned and we love the product,” Rogers said. “We both think about the entire user experience from the unboxing on. We both care deeply about helping people stay connected with their homes when they’re not there.”

Rogers said the deal was signed today and has yet to close. The Dropcam team plans to move from San Francisco to Nest’s offices in Palo Alto, Calif.

Dropcam has never disclosed sales, but it is routinely the top-selling security camera on Amazon, and it recently branched into selling in retail stores like Apple and Best Buy. The company’s newest camera sells for $199, and a version with lower resolution and less field of view sells for $149.

Given that Google’s business model is based on the eradication of privacy and the establishment of universal surveillance, Dropcam is a perfect addition. Google already tracks its users’ whereabouts, activities, interests and likes; the acquisition of Dropcam could allow Google to peer into users’ homes. Of course, Nest claims its privacy policy is “separate” from Google’s, and pledges that won’t change. But that pledge is totally worthless, and we suspect, quite temporary.


Google to collaborate with Italy’s Luxottica on future iterations of “Glass” eyewear

Since the Monster of Mountain View doesn’t have a fashion sense, it’s turning to a major maker of chic eyewear to make its “Glass” spyware look sleek:

Google has signed on Italian optical wear firm Luxottica to help it design and build future versions of its Glass face-based computing system, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal confirmed by Google to TechCrunch. The news comes from Luxottica itself, which says it will build new versions of Google’s wearable, which could theoretically be branded under Ray-Ban, Oakley, Miu Miu, Armani and many others that Luxottica counts as sub-brands.

The partnership announced today fulfills a prediction made by Mark Hurst and others when “Glass” was made available for purchase and use last year by Google fanboys:

Like every other shiny innovation these days, Google Glass will live or die solely on the experience it creates for people. The immediate, most visible problem in the Glass experience is how dorky the user looks while wearing it. No one wants to be the only person in the bar dressed like a cyborg from a 1992 virtual-reality movie. It’s embarrassing. Early adopters will abandon Google Glass if they don’t sense the social approval they seek while wearing it.

Google seems to have calculated this already and recently announced a partnership with Warby Parker, known for its designer glasses favored by the all-important younger demographic.

Google has shown it’s committed to doing whatever it takes to push this invasive product on people. Never mind that it’s fatally flawed; Google considers its potential future profits more important and more valuable than our privacy.


New York Times gets it: The plus in Google Plus? It’s mostly for Google

Claire Cain Miller has filed a great article that’s worth everyone’s time:

Google Plus, the company’s social network, is like a ghost town. Want to see your old roommate’s baby or post your vacation status? Chances are, you’ll use Facebook instead.

But Google isn’t worried. Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.

The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.

Ding ding ding! Let the winner’s bell sound… Miller has just hit the nail squarely on the head.

Almost everything Google does these days is connected to its never-ending war on user privacy, and Google+ is by far the best example. With Google+, Google can assign you a single profile that works across all of its offerings. That way, Google can connect your browsing history (yes, Google can track what you browse, thanks to its search engine and two scripts that are embedded into millions of websites… Google Analytics, and Google AdSense) with your video-watching history on YouTube, your purchases through Google Wallet, and your data on Google Drive, Docs, and Gmail. Not to mention any data you store on Google’s servers through your use of Android, if you’re an Android user.

Google+ is merely the means to achieve a longstanding end of Google: Ensure that the data flowing into Mountain View and the company’s other data centers around the world can be extremely well organized, so that Google knows as much as possible about its users. That makes each of them more valuable. The name of the game is monetization: Google is a for-profit company and none of its products are free.

Claire’s article is one of the best we’ve ever seen about Google and is a must-read.