Monday, February 23, 2009

The tail is wagging the dog.


The blurb that caught my eye said, “After a brand becomes a verb, what can stop it?” This blurb is referring to Google. In an article titled, “Everyone Loves Google, Until It’s Too Big,” author and professor of business, Randall Stross, discusses the fact that Google now has more than 70% of the search engine traffic. (NYT, Sunday, February 22, 2009, Bright Ideas Section, bottom of page 3) This little fact is significant because Google is now in monopoly territory (not the game but the law). Apparently, the 70% benchmark is a big deal in the real world of monopoly. Just as Ma Bell was sued by the Department of Justice in 1974 and won the suit in 1982 for unfair competition, Google is on the brink of major attorney fees.

I feel sorry for the other little search engines like Yahoo and Microsoft but I have another issue that bothers me more about Google. It really bothers me that they steal my cookies. Its not that I am doing anything illegal or anything that I don’t want anybody else to know about but I just don’t think it’s any of their damn business what sites I visit and how often.

The toolbar on the Google site asks in bright bold red letters if you really want Google to phone home about every site you visit. Obviously you should answer no if you like your privacy.


In another article I found on the web via Yahoo Search, Google as Big Brother, by a group called Google Watch, nine points are raised in connection with privacy issues:

1. Google's immortal cookie:
Google was the first search engine to use a cookie that expires in 2038. This was at a time when federal websites were prohibited from using persistent cookies altogether. Now it's years later, and immortal cookies are commonplace among search engines; Google set the standard because no one bothered to challenge them. This cookie places a unique ID number on your hard disk. Anytime you land on a Google page, you get a Google cookie if you don't already have one. If you have one, they read and record your unique ID number.

2. Google records everything they can:
For all searches they record the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date, your search terms, and your browser configuration. Increasingly, Google is customizing results based on your IP number. This is referred to in the industry as "IP delivery based on geolocation."

3. Google retains all data indefinitely:Google has no data retention policies. There is evidence that they are able to easily access all the user information they collect and save.

4. Google won't say why they need this data:Inquiries to Google about their privacy policies are ignored. When the New York Times (2002-11-28) asked Sergey Brin about whether Google ever gets subpoenaed for this information, he had no comment.

5. Google hires spies:Keyhole, Inc. was supported with funds from the CIA. They developed a database of spy-in-the-sky images from all over the world. Google acquired Keyhole in 2004, and would like to hire more people with security clearances, so that they can peddle their corporate assets to the spies in Washington.

6. Google's toolbar is spyware:With the advanced features enabled, Google's free toolbar for Explorer phones home with every page you surf, and yes, it reads your cookie too. Their privacy policy confesses this, but that's only because Alexa lost a class-action lawsuit when their toolbar did the same thing, and their privacy policy failed to explain this. Worse yet, Google's toolbar updates to new versions quietly, and without asking. This means that if you have the toolbar installed, Google essentially has complete access to your hard disk every time you connect to Google (which is many times a day). Most software vendors, and even Microsoft, ask if you'd like an updated version. But not Google. Any software that updates automatically presents a massive security risk.

7. Google's cache copy is illegal:Judging from Ninth Circuit precedent on the application of U.S. copyright laws to the Internet, Google's cache copy appears to be illegal. The only way a webmaster can avoid having his site cached on Google is to put a "noarchive" meta in the header of every page on his site. Surfers like the cache, but webmasters don't. Many webmasters have deleted questionable material from their sites, only to discover later that the problem pages live merrily on in Google's cache. The cache copy should be "opt-in" for webmasters, not "opt-out."

8. Google is not your friend:By now Google enjoys a 75 percent monopoly for all external referrals to most websites. Webmasters cannot avoid seeking Google's approval these days, assuming they want to increase traffic to their site. If they try to take advantage of some of the known weaknesses in Google's semi-secret algorithms, they may find themselves penalized by Google, and their traffic disappears. There are no detailed, published standards issued by Google, and there is no appeal process for penalized sites. Google is completely unaccountable. Most of the time Google doesn't even answer email from webmasters.

9. Google is a privacy time bomb:With 200 million searches per day, most from outside the U.S., Google amounts to a privacy disaster waiting to happen. Those newly-commissioned data-mining bureaucrats in Washington can only dream about the sort of slick efficiency that Google has already achieved.

It seems to me that the tail is now wagging the dog. It is Google who is gathering information and storing it rather than showing us how to find useful information.

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