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Author Topic: 'Big Brother' Google ?  (Read 2782 times)

Carol Haynes

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'Big Brother' Google ?
« on: May 24, 2007, 02:53:00 AM »
Interesting article in the Independent Newspaper today (see http://news.independ...y/article2578479.ece) or I have quoted it below:

Quote
Google is watching you
'Big Brother' row over plans for personal database
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Published: 24 May 2007

Google, the world's biggest search engine, is setting out to create the most comprehensive database of personal information ever assembled, one with the ability to tell people how to run their lives.

In a mission statement that raises the spectre of an internet Big Brother to rival Orwellian visions of the state, Google has revealed details of how it intends to organise and control the world's information.

The company's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, said during a visit to Britain this week: "The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job shall I take?'."

Speaking at a conference organised by Google, he said : "We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms [software] will get better and we will get better at personalisation."

Google's declaration of intent was publicised at the same time it emerged that the company had also invested £2m in a human genetics firm called 23andMe. The combination of genetic and internet profiling could prove a powerful tool in the battle for the greater understanding of the behaviour of an online service user.

Earlier this year Google's competitor Yahoo unveiled its own search technology, known as Project Panama, which monitors internet visitors to its site to build a profile of their interests.

Privacy protection campaigners are concerned that the trend towards sophisticated internet tracking and the collating of a giant database represents a real threat, by stealth, to civil liberties.

That concern has been reinforced by Google's $3.1bn bid for DoubleClick, a company that helps build a detailed picture of someone's behaviour by combining its records of web searches with the information from DoubleClick's "cookies", the software it places on users' machines to track which sites they visit.

The Independent has now learnt that the body representing Europe's data protection watchdogs has written to Google requesting more information about its information retention policy.

The multibillion-pound search engine has already said it plans to impose a limit on the period it keeps personal information.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK agency responsible for monitoring data legislation confirmed it had been part of the group of organisations, known as the Article 29 Working Group, which had written to Google.

It is understood the letter asked for more detail about Google's policy on the retention of data. Google says it will respond to the Article 29 request next month when it publishes a full response on its website.

The Information Commissioner's spokeswoman added: "I can't say what was in it only that it was written in response to Google's announcement that will hold information for no more than two years."

Ross Anderson, professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University and chairman of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, said there was a real issue with "lock in" where Google customers find it hard to extricate themselves from the search engine because of the interdependent linkage with other Google services, such as iGoogle, Gmail and YouTube. He also said internet users could no longer effectively protect their anonymity as the data left a key signature.

"A lot of people are upset by some of this. Why should an angst-ridden teenager who subscribes to MySpace have their information dragged up 30 years later when they go for a job as say editor of the Financial Times? But there are serious privacy issues as well. Under data protection laws, you can't take information, that may have been given incidentally, and use it for another purpose. The precise type and size of this problem is yet to be determined and will change as Google's business changes."

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner said that because of the voluntary nature of the information being targeted, the Information Commission had no plans to take any action against the databases.

Peter Fleischer, Google's global privacy Ccunsel, said the company intended only doing w hat its customers wanted it to do. He said Mr Schmidt was talking about products such as iGoogle, where users volunteer to let Google use their web histories. "This is about personalised searches, where our goal is to use information to provide the best possible search for the user. If the user doesn't want information held by us, then that's fine. We are not trying to build a giant library of personalised information. All we are doing is trying to make the best computer guess of what it is you are searching for."

Privacy protection experts have argued that law enforcement agents - in certain circumstances - can compel search engines and internet service providers to surrender information. One said: "The danger here is that it doesn't matter what search engines say their policy is because it can be overridden by national laws."

How Google grew to dominate the internet

It's all about the algorithms. When Google first started up, in summer 1998, it quickly made its mark by being the internet's best, most efficient search engine. Now Google wants to know everything - all the knowledge contained on the world wide web, and everything about you as a computer user, too.

The key, at every step of the way, has been the methodology the company has used to catalogue and present information. The first stroke of genius that the company's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had while they were still in graduate school was to measure responses to an internet search not only by the frequency of the search word but by the number of times a given web page was accessed via other web pages. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, now copied by every one of their rivals.

A decade later, their technical brilliance is operating on an altogether more ambitious scale. Google is now a $150bn (£77bn) company and a seemingly unstoppable corporate, as well as technical juggernaut.

The big question, of course, is whether the idealism that first fired up Page and Brin can survive in a dirty corporate world where information is not just an intellectual ideal, but also a legal and political hot potato involving profound issues of privacy, intellectual property rights and freedom of speech. "You can make money without doing evil," runs one of their most celebrated mantras. Does that extend to signing a deal with China whereby its search functions will be subject to state censorship? The furore over that particular decision, made at the beginning of last year, still rages.

Google's activities thus touch on some of the key philosophical questions of our digital age. Because of its power and prominence, it will also be the benchmark by which we come to measure many of the answers.

Andrew Gumbel
« Last Edit: May 24, 2007, 02:55:19 AM by Carol Haynes »

Gothi[c]

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2007, 03:20:35 AM »
Bah, I knew it all along :(

But since yahoo wants to do the same,
what should a privacy-geek, tinfoil-hat-wearing citizen like myself use to search anymore these days?

I don't trust msn search, and ask.com either,... I guess I'll have to build my own darn spider/search engine.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2007, 03:25:29 AM by Gothi[c] »

Grorgy

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2007, 05:48:43 AM »
Perhaps a double wok hat to redirect the signals somewhere, wherever the ducks in space maybe hiding  :P  Tinfoil is a bit passe these days after all.

Lashiec

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2007, 06:44:31 AM »
I suggested an alternative, Ixquick, in the thread where mouser discussed Google's conflicts of interest. This doesn't record any personal information, and is a metasearch engine, searching in all the major engines, including Google.

Although dk70 said in the same thread that we shouldn't fear tracking cookies or Google storing personal information. I'd be inclined to agree, but companies are ran by people, and people is not foolproof, and something like what happened with AOL a bit ago could happen again. Not to mention they could do business with all this information. They pretty much know everything about what you do on the Internet, pretty fearful if you ask me.

Which leads to a question: why do the search engines need this information? I mean, do they really need it for its operation? I suppose not, but I like to hear an explanation about this.

On a side note, Eric Schmidt seems to be reading DonationCoder, particularly the thread I mention above, because a couple of weeks he said that Google is getting way bigger than they wanted, and this is creating ethic problems for them. I'd give you a link, but I read it in the newspaper, but I'm sure a quick look in Google (LOL) would locate something.
« Last Edit: May 24, 2007, 06:47:27 AM by Lashiec »

Gothi[c]

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2007, 06:55:47 AM »
Nevermind their intentions, governements can FORCE information out of them. Which would be fine if all governements in the world were perfect, but they aren't, and even if they were there's no guarantee that they forever will be. If the information is there, it's only waiting to be abused.

Lashiec

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2007, 06:59:24 AM »
Nevermind their intentions, governements can FORCE information out of them. Which would be fine if all governements in the world were perfect, but they aren't, and even if they were there's no guarantee that they forever will be. If the information is there, it's only waiting to be abused.

Yeah, I forgot about that. They're doing that in China, and people is getting punished because of it. In that case, its corporate ethics really fall short before the money maker such a big country could be.

Carol Haynes

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #6 on: May 24, 2007, 07:19:24 AM »
Nevermind their intentions, governements can FORCE information out of them. Which would be fine if all governements in the world were perfect, but they aren't, and even if they were there's no guarantee that they forever will be. If the information is there, it's only waiting to be abused.

Name one government that comes even close to perfection - currently the US and UK both rank very high under any abuse of privacy criteria.

Political aside
Made me laugh the other day - the UK government introduced "freedom of information" with a giant fanfare. Now they have two exceptions:

  • Members of Parliament are exempt from the provision (in other words freedom of information is guaranteed except if you want to know what you elected representatives are under question)
  • There will be a cost limit of £600 on information availability. That is if the organisation thinks it will cost more than £600 to provide the information they will not be required to do so! Start queueing now for the jobs - highly paid 'information officers' (more than £600 per hour) so that companies can justifiably say we can't provide information!

So much for the democratic process


Lashiec

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2007, 10:15:57 AM »
What means "they're exempt from the provision"? Does that mean if they asked to provide information about their economical background, they could pass on the question?

Sorry for the political plug, but I can't help it ;D

Carol Haynes

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Re: 'Big Brother' Google ?
« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2007, 11:15:47 AM »
Apparently if people ask MPs for information under the 'Freedom of Information Act' they can decline !!