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Posts from the ‘War on Privacy’ Category

20
May

Google wants to share your photos with your nearest and not-dearest

Google’s war on privacy goes on:

Feeble human! Your spouse is clamoring for cute kid photos and you once again forgot to send them. Well, stand aside: Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) will now share your photos for you.

They will be shared automatically, aided by facial recognition and a somewhat kludgy understanding of who you have relationships with. It’s a concept that some are going to be very happy about: getting photos shared to the appropriate recipients has been a holy grail for plenty of startups, and Facebook already does it in its Moments app. Does it more elegantly, too, notes The Verge: after all, Facebook already knows who your friends are.

Google doesn’t. Rather, it guesses, based on whether you’ve sent pictures of the same face to the same phone number or email address. “Must be a buddy,” Google Photos muses, then suggests you share your next few photos of that face with that same recipient.

If this supposed buddy is also a Photos user, they can save your photos to their own library with one tap, and they can share their own photos back to you.

What could go wrong? Lots. Tess Townsend used her imagination:

  • You set up photo sharing with your spouse or partner. The two of you split and you both forget to turn it off. They continue to receive whatever photos, and you may wish you hadn’t sent those or they may not wish to receive them. You can go still switch off the connection, but you can’t un-see the photos.
  • A demanding, and perhaps abusive, friend or family member insists that you turn on photo sharing. It becomes more difficult in an already difficult situation to maintain your privacy. Lieb notes that whoever you share photos with does not see an indication of whether you have the app set to show your selected sharing contact all of your photos or just a subset.
  • You’re taking photos of a group of friends and Google is suggesting you send the photos to someone you don’t want to show them to for whatever reason. Perhaps the suggested recipient is an ex or a former friend with whom you not longer speak. It’s your decision whether to press send, but this can be an unsettling experience, and sometimes fingers slip.
  • Maybe that person’s name is included in a group of names, you miss that it’s there or mistake it for another name, act quickly, and hit send.
  • You take a photo you don’t want to share with anyone. Google either automatically shares it or suggests that you share it.

The de facto Google slogan is Privacy Is Dead. The company has suffered from one privacy bugaboo after another (the WiSpy scandal, the Buzz debacle) but it keeps pressing forward.

There were reports a few years ago that Google had shelved plans to debut facial recognition technologies because it was concerned that there would be a backlash. Now, apparently, the brass at the Monster of Mountain View have judged that now is the right time to go forward.

13
May

New York Times expose: How Google took over the classroom

“The tech giant is transforming public education with low-cost laptops and free apps,” reports The New York Times’ Natasha Singer. “But schools may be giving Google more than they are getting.”

Key excerpt:

Schools may be giving Google more than they are getting: generations of future customers.

Google makes $30 per device by selling management services for the millions of Chromebooks that ship to schools. But by habituating students to its offerings at a young age, Google obtains something much more valuable.

Every year, several million American students graduate from high school. And not only does Google make it easy for those who have school Google accounts to upload their trove of school Gmail, Docs and other files to regular Google consumer accounts — but schools encourage them to do so. This month, for instance, Chatfield Senior High School in Littleton, Colo., sent out a notice urging seniors to “make sure” they convert their school account “to a personal Gmail account.”

That doesn’t sit well with some parents. They warn that Google could profit by using personal details from their children’s school email to build more powerful marketing profiles of them as young adults.

“My concern is that they are working on developing a profile of this child that, when they hit maturity, they are able to create a better profile,” said David Barsotti, an information technology project manager in the Chicago area whose daughter uses Google tools in elementary school. “That is a problem, in my opinion.”

Barostti is right. It’s a problem… a very big problem.

22
Oct

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!

19
Sep

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.

21
Apr

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.

30
Sep

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.

19
Aug

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, Amazon.com and Walmart.com. 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”.

23
Apr

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.

23
Jun

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.

23
Jun

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.