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Privacy is dead bulletin, 2013

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[Dec 27, 2013] N.S.A. Phone Surveillance Is Lawful, Federal Judge Rules

In one of the concurrences, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties."
NYTimes.com

The main dispute between Judge Pauley and Judge Leon was over how to interpret a 1979 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland, in which the court said a robbery suspect had no reasonable expectation that his right to privacy extended to the numbers dialed from his phone.

"Smith's bedrock holding is that an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information provided to third parties," Judge Pauley wrote.

But Judge Leon said in his ruling that advances in technology and suggestions in concurring opinions in later Supreme Court decisions had undermined Smith. The government's ability to construct a mosaic of information from countless records, he said, called for a new analysis of how to apply the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable government searches.

Judge Pauley disagreed. "The collection of breathtaking amounts of information unprotected by the Fourth Amendment does not transform that sweep into a Fourth Amendment search," he wrote.

He acknowledged that "five justices appeared to be grappling with how the Fourth Amendment applies to technological advances" in a pair of 2012 concurrences in United States v. Jones. In that decision, the court unanimously rejected the use of a GPS device to track the movements of a drug suspect over a month. The majority in the 2012 case said that attaching the device violated the defendant's property rights.

In one of the concurrences, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that "it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties."

But Judge Pauley wrote that the 2012 decision did not overrule the one from 1979. "The Supreme Court," he said, "has instructed lower courts not to predict whether it would overrule a precedent even if its reasoning has been supplanted by later cases."

As for changes in technology, he wrote, customers' "relationship with their telecommunications providers has not changed and is just as frustrating."

[Dec 27, 2013] What Surveillance Valley knows about you By Yasha Levine

December 22, 2013 | Crooks and Liars

"In 2012, the data broker industry generated 150 billion in revenue that's twice the size of the entire intelligence budget of the United States government-all generated by the effort to detail and sell information about our private lives."
- Senator Jay Rockefeller IV

"Quite simply, in the digital age, data-driven marketing has become the fuel on which America's free market engine runs."

- Direct Marketing Association

* * *

Google is very secretive about the exact nature of its for-profit intel operation and how it uses the petabytes of data it collects on us every single day for financial gain. Fortunately, though, we can get a sense of the kind of info that Google and other Surveillance Valley megacorps compile on us, and the ways in which that intel might be used and abused, by looking at the business practices of the "data broker" industry.

Thanks to a series of Senate hearings, the business of data brokerage is finally being understood by consumers, but the industry got its start back in the 1970s as a direct outgrowth of the failure of telemarketing. In its early days, telemarketing had an abysmal success rate: only 2 percent of people contacted would become customers. In his book, "The Digital Perso," Daniel J. Solove explains what happened next:

To increase the low response rate, marketers sought to sharpen their targeting techniques, which required more consumer research and an effective way to collect, store, and analyze information about consumers. The advent of the computer database gave marketers this long sought-after ability - and it launched a revolution in targeting technology.

Data brokers rushed in to fill the void. These operations pulled in information from any source they could get their hands on - voter registration, credit card transactions, product warranty information, donations to political campaigns and non-profits, court records - storing it in master databases and then analyzing it in all sorts of ways that could be useful to direct-mailing and telemarketing outfits. It wasn't long before data brokers realized that this information could be used beyond telemarketing, and quickly evolved into a global for-profit intelligence business that serves every conceivable data and intelligence need.

Today, the industry churns somewhere around $200 billion in revenue annually. There are up to 4,000 data broker companies - some of the biggest are publicly traded - and together, they have detailed information on just about every adult in the western world.

No source of information is sacred: transaction records are bought in bulk from stores, retailers and merchants; magazine subscriptions are recorded; food and restaurant preferences are noted; public records and social networks are scoured and scraped. What kind of prescription drugs did you buy? What kind of books are you interested in? Are you a registered voter? To what non-profits do you donate? What movies do you watch? Political documentaries? Hunting reality TV shows?

That info is combined and kept up to date with address, payroll information, phone numbers, email accounts, social security numbers, vehicle registration and financial history. And all that is sliced, isolated, analyzed and mined for data about you and your habits in a million different ways.

The dossiers are not restricted to generic market segmenting categories like "Young Literati" or "Shotguns and Pickups" or "Kids & Cul-de-Sacs," but often contain the most private and intimate details about a person's life, all of it packaged and sold over and over again to anyone willing to pay.

Take MEDbase200, a boutique for-profit intel outfit that specializes in selling health-related consumer data. Well, until last week, the company offered its clients a list of rape victims (or "rape sufferers," as the company calls them) at the low price of $79.00 per thousand. The company claims to have segmented this data set into hundreds of different categories, including stuff like the ailments they suffer, prescription drugs they take and their ethnicity:

These rape sufferers are family members who have reported, or have been identified as individuals affected by specific illnesses, conditions or ailments relating to rape. Medbase200 is the owner of this list. Select from families affected by over 500 different ailments, and/or who are consumers of over 200 different Rx medications. Lists can be further selected on the basis of lifestyle, ethnicity, geo, gender, and much more. Inquire today for more information.

MEDbase promptly took its "rape sufferers" list off line last week after its existence was revealed in a Senate investigation into the activities of the data-broker industry. The company pretended like the list was a huge mistake. A MEDbase rep tried convincing a Wall Street Journal reporter that its rape dossiers were just a "hypothetical list of health conditions/ailments." The rep promised it was never sold to anyone. Yep, it was a big mistake. We can all rest easy now. Thankfully, MEDbase has hundreds of other similar dossier collections, hawking the most private and sensitive medical information.

For instance, if lists of rape victims aren't your thing, MEDbase can sell dossiers on people suffering from anorexia, substance abuse, AIDS and HIV, Alzheimer's Disease, Asperger Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bedwetting (Enuresis), Binge Eating Disorder, Depression, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhea, Homelessness, Infertility, Syphilis… the list goes on and on and on and on.

Normally, such detailed health information would fall under federal law and could not be disclosed or sold without consent. But because these data harvesters rely on indirect sources of information instead of medical records, they're able to sidestep regulations put in place to protect the privacy of people's health data.

MEBbase isn't the only company exploiting these loopholes. By the industry's own estimates, there are something like 4,000 for-profit intel companies operating in the United States. Many of them sell information that would normally be restricted under federal law. They offer all sorts of targeted dossier collections on every population segments of our society, from the affluent to the extremely vulnerable:

If you want to see how this kind of profile data can be used to scam unsuspecting individuals, look no further than a Richard Guthrie, an Iowa retiree who had his life savings siphoned out of his bank account. Their weapon of choice: databases bought from large for-profit data brokers listing retirees who entered sweepstakes and bought lottery tickets.

Here's a 2007 New York Times story describing the racket:

Mr. Guthrie, who lives in Iowa, had entered a few sweepstakes that caused his name to appear in a database advertised by infoUSA, one of the largest compilers of consumer information. InfoUSA sold his name, and data on scores of other elderly Americans, to known lawbreakers, regulators say.

InfoUSA advertised lists of "Elderly Opportunity Seekers," 3.3 million older people "looking for ways to make money," and "Suffering Seniors," 4.7 million people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease. "Oldies but Goodies" contained 500,000 gamblers over 55 years old, for 8.5 cents apiece. One list said: "These people are gullible. They want to believe that their luck can change."

Data brokers argue that cases like Guthrie are an anomaly - a once-in-a-blue-moon tragedy in an industry that takes privacy and legal conduct seriously. But cases of identity thieves and sophistical con-rings obtaining data from for-profit intel businesses abound. Scammers are a lucrative source of revenue. Their money is just as good as anyone else's. And some of the profile "products" offered by the industry seem tailored specifically to fraud use.

As Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sergeant Yves Leblanc told the New York Times: "Only one kind of customer wants to buy lists of seniors interested in lotteries and sweepstakes: criminals. If someone advertises a list by saying it contains gullible or elderly people, it's like putting out a sign saying 'Thieves welcome here.'"

So what is InfoUSA, exactly? What kind of company would create and sell lists customized for use by scammers and cons?

As it turns out, InfoUSA is not some fringe or shady outfit, but a hugely profitable politically connected company. InfoUSA was started by Vin Gupta in the 1970s as a basement operation hawking detailed lists of RV and mobile home dealers. The company quickly expanded into other areas and began providing business intel services to thousands of businesses. By 2000, the company raised more than $30 million in venture capital funding from major Silicon Valley venture capital firms.

By then, InfoUSA boasted of having information on 230 million consumers. A few years later, InfoUSA counted the biggest Valley companies as its clients, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL. It got involved not only in raw data and dossiers, but moved into payroll and financial, conducted polling and opinion research, partnered with CNN, vetted employees and provided customized services for law enforcement and all sorts of federal and government agencies: processing government payments, helping states locate tax cheats and even administrating President Bill Clinton "Welfare to Work" program. Which is not surprising, as Vin Gupta is a major and close political supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, Gupta was sued by InfoUSA shareholders for inappropriately using corporate funds. Shareholders accused of Gupta of illegally funneling corporate money to fund an extravagant lifestyle and curry political favor. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit questioned why Gupta used private corporate jets to fly the Clintons on personal and campaign trips, and why Gupta awarded Bill Clinton a $3.3 million consulting gig.

As a result of the scandal, InfoUSA was threatened with delisting from Nasdaq, Gupta was forced out and the company was snapped up for half a billion dollars by CCMP Capital Advisors, a major private equity firm spun off from JP Morgan in 2006. Today, InfoUSA continues to do business under the name Infogroup, and has nearly 4,000 employees working in nine countries.

As big as Infogroup is, there are dozens of other for-profit intelligence businesses that are even bigger: massive multi-national intel conglomerates with revenues in the billions of dollars. Some of them, like Lexis-Nexis and Experian, are well known, but mostly these are outfits that few Americans have heard of, with names like Epsilon, Altegrity and Acxiom.

These for-profit intel behemoths are involved in everything from debt collection to credit reports to consumer tracking to healthcare analysis, and provide all manner of tailored services to government and law enforcement around the world. For instance, Acxiom has done business with most major corporations, and boasts of intel on "500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the United States," according to the New York Times.

This data is analyzed and sliced in increasingly sophisticated and intrusive ways to profile and predict behavior. Merchants are using it customize shopping experience- Target launched a program to figure out if a woman shopper was pregnant and when the baby would be born, "even if she didn't want us to know." Life insurance companies are experimenting with predictive consumer intel to estimate life expectancy and determine eligibility for life insurance policies. Meanwhile, health insurance companies are raking over this data in order to deny and challenge the medical claims of their policyholders.

Even more alarming, large employers are turning to for-profit intelligence to mine and monitor the lifestyles and habits of their workers outside the workplace. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal described how employers have partnered with health insurance companies to monitor workers for "health-adverse" behavior that could lead to higher medical expenses down the line:

Your company already knows whether you have been taking your meds, getting your teeth cleaned and going for regular medical checkups. Now some employers or their insurance companies are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they are putting on - and taking action to keep them in line.

But companies also have started scrutinizing employees' other behavior more discreetly. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity - and then call or send mailings offering weight-loss solutions.

…"Everybody is using these databases to sell you stuff," says Daryl Wansink, director of health economics for the Blue Cross unit. "We happen to be trying to sell you something that can get you healthier."

"As an employer, I want you on that medication that you need to be on," says Julie Stone, a HR expert at Towers Watson told the Wall Street Journal.

Companies might try to frame it as a health issue. I mean, what kind of asshole could be against employers caring about the wellbeing of their workers? But their ultimate concern has nothing to do with the employee health. It's all about the brutal bottom line: keeping costs down.

An employer monitoring and controlling your activity outside of work? You don't have to be union agitator to see the problems with this kind of mindset and where it could lead. Because there are lots of things that some employers might want to know about your personal life, and not only to "keep costs down." It could be anything: to weed out people based on undesirable habits or discriminate against workers based on sexual orientation, regulation and political beliefs.

It's not difficult to imagine that a large corporation facing a labor unrest or a unionization drive would be interested in proactively flagging potential troublemakers by pinpointing employees that might be sympathetic to the cause. But the technology and data is already here for wide and easy application: did a worker watch certain political documentaries, donate to environmental non-profits, join an animal rights Facebook group, tweet out support for Occupy Wall Street, subscribe to the Nation or Jacobin, buy Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine"? Or maybe the worker simply rented one of Michael Moore's films? Run your payroll through one of the massive consumer intel databases and look if there is any matchup. Bound to be plenty of unpleasant surprises for HR!

This has happened in the past, although in a cruder and more limited way. In the 1950s, for instance, some lefty intellectuals had their lefty newspapers and mags delivered to P.O. boxes instead of their home address, worrying that otherwise they'd get tagged as Commie symps. That might have worked in the past. But with the power of private intel companies, today there's nowhere to hide.

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill has repeatedly voiced concern that unregulated data being amassed by for-profit intel companies would be used to discriminate and deny employment, and to determine consumer access to everything from credit to insurance to housing. "As Big Data algorithms become more accurate and powerful, consumers need to know a lot more about the ways in which their data is used," she told the Wall Street Journal.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the Privacy World Forum, agrees. Dixon frequently testifies on Capitol Hill to warn about the growing danger to privacy and civil liberties posed by big data and for-profit intelligence. In Congressional testimony back in 2009, Dixon called this growing mountain of data the "modern permanent record" and explained that users of these new intel capabilities will inevitably expand to include not just marketers and law enforcement, but insurance companies, employers, landlords, schools, parents, scammers and stalkers. "The information – like credit reports – will be used to make basic decisions about the ability of individual to travel, participate in the economy, find opportunities, find places to live, purchase goods and services, and make judgments about the importance, worthiness, and interests of individuals."

* * *

For the past year, Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV has been conducting a Senate Commerce Committee investigation of the data broker industry and how it affects consumers. The committee finished its investigation last week without reaching any real conclusions, but issued a report warning about the dangers posed by the for-profit intel industry and the need for further action by lawmakers. The report noted with concern that many of these firms failed to cooperate with the investigation into their business practices:

Data brokers operate behind a veil of secrecy. Three of the largest companies – Acxiom, Experian, and Epsilon – to date have been similarly secretive with the Committee with respect to their practices, refusing to identify the specific sources of their data or the customers who purchase it. … The refusal by several major data broker companies to provide the Committee complete responses regarding data sources and customers only reinforces the aura of secrecy surrounding the industry.

Rockefeller's investigation was an important first step breaking open this secretive industry, but it was missing one notable element. Despite its focus on companies that feed on people's personal data, the investigation did not include Google or the other big Surveillance Valley data munchers. And that's too bad. Because if anything, the investigation into data brokers only highlighted the danger posed by the consumer-facing data companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple.

As intrusive as data brokers are, the level of detail in the information they compile on Americans pales to what can be vacuumed up by a company like Google. To compile their dossiers, traditional data brokers rely on mostly indirect intel: what people buy, where they vacation, what websites they visit. Google, on the other hand, has access to the raw uncensored contents of your inner life: personal emails, chats, the diary entries and medical records that we store in the cloud, our personal communication with doctors, lawyers, psychologists, friends. Data brokers know us through our spending habits. Google accesses the unfiltered details of our personal lives.

A recent study showed that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to having their online activity tracked and analyzed. Seventy-three percent of people polled for the Pew Internet & American Life Project viewed the tracking of their search history as an invasion of privacy, while 68 percent were against targeted advertising, replying: "I don't like having my online behavior tracked and analyzed."

This isn't news to companies like Google, which last year warned shareholders: "Privacy concerns relating to our technology could damage our reputation and deter current and potential users from using our products and services."

Little wonder then that Google, and the rest of Surveillance Valley, is terrified that the conversation about surveillance could soon broaden to include not only government espionage, but for-profit spying as well.

2013 in Review The Year the NSA Finally Admitted Its Collect It All Strategy Electronic Frontier Foundation

Here's just some of what we've learned, or had confirmed, in 2013:

[Dec 27, 2013] Stanford Study It Is Trivially Easy to Identify People With Metadata by John Glaser

December 26, 2013 | Antiwar.com Blog

Stanford Study: It Is Trivially Easy to Identify People With Metadata

When the NSA's bulk collection of every single American's phone records was disclosed this past summer, defenders of the program argued it was not invasive surveillance because it's only metadata (who you called, when, and for how long) and doesn't include the identity of the callers or the content of the conversation. "There are no names, there's no content in that database," Obama said in June.

A new study at Stanford University has just ripped that argument to shreds.

Stanford computer scientists Jonathon Mayer and Patrick Mutchler found that it is "trivially" easy to determine the identity of callers if all you have is metadata. They write about their research in a blog post:

So, just how easy is it to identify a phone number?

Trivial, we found. We randomly sampled 5,000 numbers from our crowdsourced MetaPhone datasetand queried the Yelp, Google Places, and Facebook directories. With little marginal effort and just those three sources-all free and public-we matched 1,356 (27.1%) of the numbers. Specifically, there were 378 hits (7.6%) on Yelp, 684 (13.7%) on Google Places, and 618 (12.3%) on Facebook.

What about if an organization were willing to put in some manpower? To conservatively approximate human analysis, we randomly sampled 100 numbers from our dataset, then ran Google searches on each. In under an hour, we were able to associate an individual or a business with 60 of the 100 numbers. When we added in our three initial sources, we were up to 73.

How about if money were no object? We don't have the budget or credentials to access a premium data aggregator, so we ran our 100 numbers with Intelius, a cheap consumer-oriented service. 74 matched.1 Between Intelius, Google search, and our three initial sources, we associated a name with 91 of the 100 numbers.

If a few academic researchers can get this far this quickly, it's difficult to believe the NSA would have any trouble identifying the overwhelming majority of American phone numbers.

This shouldn't be too surprising to anyone that has been paying attention. When the Snowden leaks broke, NSA whistleblower William Binney took issue with arguments like Obama's that said metadata wasn't revealing. Binney said collecting metadata can be more revealing than listening in to the content of phone calls.

This study represents just another in a long line of definitive knock-downs of pro-NSA arguments. The transparency that Snowden's leaks have imposed on the government and its defenders has mortally embarrassed them and allowed for each of their arguments – which we would otherwise have to take on their word – to be disproven.

That is true in general, but it is especially true of the metadata program. The disclosure of this program proved James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, to be a bald-faced liar given that he testified to Congress that no such program existed. Then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander said the metadata program foiled 54 terrorist plots, a justification that was later proven (and admitted by Alexander) to be completely false.

Then they said it was perfectly legal, until we found out that a FISC ruling found in 2011 that the NSA "frequently and systematically violated" statutory laws restricting how intelligence agents can search databases of Americans' telephone communications. To add to that, a federal judge essentially ruled it unconstitutional. And now we discover that their "metadata-isn't-really-invasive" argument is also baloney.

Before Edward Snowden, NSA overreach was, to borrow a phrase, an unknown unknown. After Edward Snowden, they have to lie about it…repeatedly…apparently without a whiff of shame.

[Nov 16, 2013] The Internet Ideology Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley by Evgeny Morozov

Wouldn't it be nice if one day, told that Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," we would finally read between the lines and discover its true meaning: "to monetize all of the world's information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable"?
FAZ

If Ronald Reagan was the first Teflon President, then Silicon Valley is the first Teflon Industry: no matter how much dirt one throws at it, nothing seems to stick. While "Big Pharma," "Big Food" and "Big Oil" are derogatory terms used to describe the greediness that reigns supreme in those industries, this is not the case with "Big Data." This innocent term is never used to refer to the shared agendas of technology companies. What shared agendas? Aren't these guys simply improving the world, one line of code at a time?

Something odd is going on here. While we understand that the interests of pharmaceutical, food and oil companies naturally diverge from our own, we rarely approach Silicon Valley with the requisite suspicion. Instead, we continue to treat data as if it were a special, magical commodity that could single-handedly defend itself against any evil genius who dares to exploit it.

Earlier this year, a tiny scratch appeared on the rhetorical Teflon of Silicon Valley. The Snowden affair helped – but so did other events. The world seems to have finally realized that "disruption" – the favorite word of the digital elites –describes a rather ugly, painful phenomenon. Thus, university professors are finally complaining about the "disruption" brought on by the massive open online courses (MOOCs); taxi drivers are finally fighting services like Uber; residents of San Francisco are finally bemoaning the "disruption" of monthly rents in a city that has suddenly been invaded by millionaires.

...Wouldn't it be nice if one day, told that Google's mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," we would finally read between the lines and discover its true meaning: "to monetize all of the world's information and make it universally inaccessible and profitable"? With this act of subversive interpretation, we might eventually hit upon the greatest emancipatory insight of all: Letting Google organize all of the world's information makes as much sense as letting Halliburton organize all of the world's oil.

The reason why the digital debate feels so empty and toothless is simple: framed as a debate over "the digital" rather than "the political" and "the economic," it's conducted on terms that are already beneficial to technology companies. Unbeknownst to most of us, the seemingly exceptional nature of commodities in question – from "information" to "networks" to "the Internet" – is coded into our language. It's this hidden exceptionalism that allows Silicon Valley to dismiss its critics as Luddites who, by opposing "technology," "information" or "the Internet"-- they don't do plurals in Silicon Valley, for the nuance risks overwhelming their brains – must also be opposed to "progress."

How do you spot "the digital debate"? Look for arguments that appeal to the essences of things – of technology, information, knowledge and, of course, the Internet itself. Thus, whenever you hear someone say "this law is bad because it will break the Internet" or "this new gadget is good because that's what technology wants," you know that you have left the realm of the political – where arguments are usually framed around the common good – and have entered the realm of bad metaphysics. In that realm, what you are being asked to defend is the well-being of phantom digital gods that function as convenient stand-ins for corporate interests. Why does anything that might "break the Internet" also risk breaking Google? This can't be a coincidence, can it ?

Perhaps, we should ditch the technology/progress dialectic altogether. "Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?" ran the title of a fabulous 1984 essay by Thomas Pynchon – a question that he answered, by and large, in the affirmative. This question feels outdated today. "Is it okay not to be a Luddite but still hate Silicon Valley?" is a much better question, for the real enemy is not technology but the present political and economic regime – a wild combination of the military-industrial complex and the out-of-control banking and advertising – that deploys latest technologies to achieve its ugly (even if lucrative and occasionally pleasant) ends. Silicon Valley represents the most visible, the most discussed, and the most naive part of this assemblage. In short, it's okay to hate Silicon Valley – we just need to do it for the right reasons. Below are three of them – but this is hardly an exhaustive list.

The rhetoric is as lofty as it is revolutionary

Reason number one: Silicon Valley firms are building what I call "invisible barbed wire" around our lives. We are promised more freedom, more openness, more mobility; we are told we can roam wherever and whenever we want. But the kind of emancipation that we actually get is fake emancipation; it's the emancipation of a just-released criminal wearing an ankle bracelet.

Yes, a self-driving car could make our commute less dreadful. But a self-driving car operated by Google would not just be a self-driving car: it would be a shrine to surveillance – on wheels! It would track everywhere we go. It might even prevent us from going to certain places if we our mood – measured through facial expression analysis – suggests that we are too angry or tired or emotional. Yes, there are exceptions – at times, GPS does feel liberating – but the trend is clear: every new Google sensor in that car would introduce a new lever of control. That lever doesn't even have to be exercised to produce changes in our behavior – our knowledge of its presence will suffice.

Or take MOOCs. They would undoubtedly produce many shifts in power relations. We know of all the visible, positive shifts: students getting more, cheaper opportunities to learn; kids in Africa finally taking best courses on offer in America, and so on. But what about the invisible shifts? Take Coursera, a company that was started by a senior Google engineer and that has quickly become one of the leaders in the field. It now uses biometrics -- facial recognition and typing speed analysis – to verify student identity. (This comes in handy when they issue diplomas!) How did we go from universities with open-door policies to universities that check their students with biometrics? As Gilles Deleuze put in a 1990 conversation with Tony Negri, "compared with the approaching forms of ceaseless control in open sites, we may come to see the harshest confinement as part of a wonderful happy past." This connection between the seeming openness of our technological infrastructures and the intensifying degree of control remains poorly understood.

What does this invisible barbed wire mean in practice? Suppose you want to become a vegetarian. So you go to Facebook and use its Graph Search feature to search for the favorite vegetarian restaurants of all your friends who live nearby. Facebook understands that you are considering an important decision that will affect several industries: great news for the tofu industry but bad news for the meat section of your local supermarket.

Facebook would be silly not to profit from this knowledge – so it organizes a real-time ad auction to see whether the meat industry wants you more than the tofu industry. This is where your fate is no longer in your own hands. Sounds silly – until you enter your local supermarket and your smartphone shows that the meat section offers you a discount of 20%. The following day, as you pass by the local steak house, your phone buzzes again: you've got another discount offer. Come in – have some steak! After a week of deliberation – and lots of cheap meat -- you decide that vegetarianism is not your thing. Case closed.

Of course, had the tofu industry won the ad auction, things might have gone in the opposite direction. But it doesn't matter who wins the auction. What matters is that a decision that seems fully autonomous is not autonomous at all. You feel liberated and empowered; you might even write a thank-you note to Mark Zuckerberg. But this is laughable: you are simply at the mercy of the highest bidder. And they are bidding to show you an ad that matters – an ad based on everything that Facebook knows about your anxieties and insecurities. It's not your bland, one-dimensional advertising anymore.

This example is hardly the product of my wild imagination: Last year, Facebook struck a deal with a company called Datalogix, which would allow it to tie what you buy at your local supermarket to ads that Facebook shows you. Google already has an app – Google Field – which constantly scans shops and restaurants in your area for latest deals. Nothing in this example hinges upon a hatred of technology or information: we are dealing here with political economy, advertising, autonomy. What does this have to do with the "digital debate"? Very little.

The data-centric model of Silicon Valley capitalism seeks to convert every aspect of our everyday existence – what used to be our only respite from the vagaries of work and the anxieties of the marketplace – into a productive asset. This is done not just by blurring the distinction between work and nonwork but also by making us tacitly accept the idea that our reputation is a work-in-progress – something that we could and should be honing 24/7. Therefore, everything is turned into a productive asset: our relationships, our family life, our vacations, our sleep (you are now invited to "hack" it so that you can get most of your sleep in the shortest amount of time).

The rhetoric attached to such "breakthroughs" is as lofty as it is revolutionary, especially when mixed with subjects like "the sharing economy." „This is the first stage of something more profound, which is the ability of people to structure their lives around doing multiple sharing economy activities as a choice in lieu of a 9-to-5, five-day-a-week job," said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University and a big fan of "the sharing economy," in a recent interview. „This is technology-driven progress. This is what it's all about," he added. Oh yes, "progress" has never felt so good: who doesn't like working 24-7 instead of 9-5?

When privacy is becoming expensive

Reason number two: Silicon Valley has destroyed our ability to imagine other models for running and organizing our communication infrastructure. Forget about models that aren't based on advertising and that do not contribute to the centralization of data on private servers located in America. To suggest that we need to look into other – perhaps, even publicly-provided alternatives –is to risk being accused of wanting to "break the Internet." We have succumbed to what the Brazilian social theorist Roberto Unger calls "the dictatorship of no alternatives": we are asked to accept that Gmail is the best and only possible way to do email, and that Facebook is the best and only possible way to do social networking.

But consider just how weird our current arrangement is. Imagine I told you that the post office could run on a different, innovation-friendly business model. Forget stamps. They cost money – and why pay money when there's a way to send letters for free? Just think about the world-changing potential: the poor kids in Africa can finally reach you with their pleas for more laptops! So, instead of stamps, we would switch to an advertising-backed system: we'd open every letter that you send, scan its contents, insert a relevant ad, seal it, and then forward it to the recipient.

Sounds crazy? It does. But this is how we have chosen to run our email. In the wake of the NSA scandal and the debacle that is Healthcare.gov, trust in public institutions runs so low that any alternative arrangement – especially the one that would give public institutions a greater role – seems unthinkable. But this is only part of the problem. What would happen when some of our long cherished and privately-run digital infrastructure begins to crumble, as companies evolve and change their business models?

Five years ago, one could still publish silly little books with titles like "What Would Google Do?" on the assumption that the company had a coherent and mostly benevolent philosophy, eager to subsidize unprofitable services just because it could. After Google shut down Google Reader and many other popular services, this benevolence can no longer be taken for granted. In the next two-three years, there would come a day when Google would announce that it's shutting down Google Scholar – a free but completely unprofitable service – that abets millions of academics worldwide. Why aren't we preparing for this eventuality by building a robust publicly-run infrastructure? Doesn't it sound ridiculous that Europe can produce a project like CERN but seems incapable of producing an online service to keep track of papers written about CERN? Could it be because Silicon Valley has convinced us that they are in the magic industry?

Now that our communication networks are in the hands of the private sector, we should avoid making the same mistake with privacy. We shouldn't reduce this complex problem to market-based solutions. Alas, thanks to Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial zeal, privatization is already creeping in. Privacy is becoming a commodity. How does one get privacy these days? Just ask any hacker: only by studying how the right tools work. Privacy is no longer something to be taken for granted or enjoyed for free: you have to expend some resources to master the tools. Those resources could be money, patience, attention – you might even hire a consultant to do all this for you – but the point is that privacy is becoming expensive.

And what of those who can't afford tools and consultants? How do their lives change? When the founder of a prominent lending start-up – the former CIO of Google, no less – proclaims that "all data is credit data, we just don't know how to use it yet" I can't help but fear the worst. If "all data is credit data" and poor people cannot afford privacy, they are in for some dark times. How can they not be anxious when their every move, their every click, their every phone call could be analyzed to predict if they deserve credit and at what rates? If the burden of debt wasn't agonizing enough, now we'll have to live with the fact that, for the poor people, anxiety begins well before they get the actual loan. Once again, one doesn't have to hate or fear technology to worry about the future of equality, mobility and the quality of life. The "digital debate," with its inevitable detours into cultural pessimism, simply has no intellectual resources to tackle these issues.

Where are the apps to fight poverty or racial discrimination?

...The trouble with Silicon Valley is not just that it enables the NSA –it also encourages, even emboldens them. It inspires the NSA to keep searching for connections in a world of meaningless links, to record every click, to ensure that no interaction goes unnoticed, undocumented and unanalyzed. Like Silicon Valley, NSA assumes that everything is interconnected: if we can't yet link two pieces of data, it's because we haven't looked deep enough – or we need a third piece of data, to be collected in the future, to make sense of it all.

There's something delusional about this practice – and I don't use "delusional" metaphorically. For the Italian philosopher Remo Bodei, delusion does not stem from too little psychic activity, as some psychoanalytic theories would have it, but, rather, from too much of it. Delirium, he notes, is "the incapacity to filter an enormous quantity of data." While a sane, rational person "has learned that ignorance is vaster than knowledge and that one must resist the temptation to find more coherence than can currently be achieved," the man suffering from delusion cannot stop finding coherence among inherently incoherent phenomena. He generalizes too much, which results in what Bodei calls "hyper-inclusion."

"Hyper-inclusion" is exactly what plagues America's military-industrial complex today. And they don't even hide this: thus, Gus Hunt, the chief technology officer of the CIA, confesses that "since you can't connect dots you don't have …we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever." Such hyper-inclusion, according to Bodei, is the prerogative of the deluded. For them, he writes, "the accidental, which most certainly exists in the external world, has no right of citizenship in the psychic one, where it is 'curved' to a certain explanation." For example, "a madman might find it significant that three people in a larger group are wearing a red tie, and might believe that this implies some form of persecution." Likewise, the delirious person believes that "the concept of St. Joseph includes not only the individual person but also a wooden table since St. Joseph was a carpenter." Well, it might be "delusion' for Bodei but as far as Silicon Valley and Washington are concerned, we are talking bout "the semantic Web" and "Big Data"!

Silicon Valley doesn't care that some of these connections are spurious. When Google or Facebook mess up and show us an irrelevant ad based on their misconceived view of who we are, it results in minor discomfort– and little else. When NSA or CIA mess up, it results in a loud drone strike (if you are lucky, you might qualify for an all-expenses-paid, one-way trip to Guantanamo).

The other problem with Silicon Valley's epistemology is that its view of the world is heavily distorted by its business model. Silicon Valley has two responses to any problem: it can produce more "computation" (or code) or it can process more "information" (or data). Most likely, it will be a combination of the two, giving us yet another app to track calories, weather and traffic. Such small successes allow Silicon Valley to redefine "progress" as something that naturally follows from their business plans. But while "more computation" or "more information" could be lucrative private responses to some problems, it doesn't follow that they are also most effective responses to the unwieldy, messy public problems have deep institutional and structural causes.

... ... ...

Sociologists have coined a term for this phenomenon: "problem closure." To use one recent definition, it refers to "the situation when a specific definition of a problem is used to frame subsequent study of the problem's causes and consequences in ways that preclude alternative conceptualizations of the problem." Once the causes and consequences have been narrowly defined, it's no wonder that particular solutions get most attention. This is where we are today: inspired by Silicon Valley, policy-makers are beginning to redefine problems as essentially stemming from incomplete information while envisioning solutions that only do one thing: deliver more information through apps. But where are the apps to fight poverty or racial discrimination? We are building apps to fix the problems that our apps can fix – instead of tackling problems that actually need fixing.

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About the author: Evgeny Morozov's homepage

In 2010-2012 I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. In 2009-2010 I was a fellow at Georgetown University and in 2008-2009 I was a fellow at the Open Society Foundations (where I also sat on the board of the Information Program between 2008 and 2012). Between 2006 and 2008 I was Director of New Media at Transitions Online.... Some of my journalism, essays and reviews are here.

The Net Delusion The Dark Side of Internet Freedom

Amazon.com

Lemas Mitchell "Libertarian/ Empiricist" (Yangzhou, Jiangsu)

WAY too many words, but a thoughtful exposition of the subject, May 1, 2013

This book's title is obviously a play on words and echoes Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." I don't exactly mind the fact that this author is so long-winded because his prose is very easy to follow. He does overstate his case a bit, but what I come away with is:

1. New terms. Internet-centrism (don't try to reinterpret every single problem in terms of how it can be solved by the internet) and cyber-utopianism (don't imagine that the internet will lead to every single perfect outcome just because you think it will). Samizdat? (I'd never heard of that word before. But it is in the Oxford Dictionary.)

2. The use of the internet as a tool can go both ways. So, interest groups can learn to organize with it. But whatever government that happens to be in power in whatever place can also learn to use that tool in its own service.

3. McDonald's is a quintessentially American invention and it is everywhere. And no one sees it as such because the State Department of the US government does not make any connections or try to use it as a tool. The internet is the same way, and it was neutral at some point....but companies that provide internet services can be seen as an instrument of subversion if the State Department tries to enlist their services on its behalf. (Ever wondered why Twitter and Youtube are blocked in China? You don't need to wonder anymore after reading the first chapter of this book.)

4. The Iranian "Revolution" was completely fictional. Or, the presentation of it was the composite of a lot of wishful thinking.

There is a lot of what we (this reader) already knew:

1. There are a lot of unintended consequences to any policy. And this could be deduced from the unintended consequences of a lot of things that have already gone down (that the author detailed) and that we might expect (because no two countries are quite the same);

2. Most of the policymakers in the United States ("The West") don't really know what they are doing and are very likely guilty of over optimism.

3. Basically policymakers don't know what they are doing and act on flawed models. One of the concepts that he introduced was the difference between "wicked" and "tame" problems. But I feel that the issue of decision making was covered much better in Thomas Sowell's Knowledge And Decisions

4. It is not appropriate to treat political problems (with political constraints and incentives) as internet problems. We already knew that.

There is some subtle discussion of the epistemic perspectives on populaces under authoritarian government. What Morozov gives is a Huxley-Orwell axis. On one end, the population is strangled by consumerism and popular goods. And on the other, it is strangled by an invasive bureaucracy that is reading mail and tapping phone calls. Our writers shows that this is likely to be a false dichotomy and that some elements of both can be mixed. A regime can keep people so busy watching TV that they don't have time to know what is going on (and I have witnessed this) but then censor the internet and block blogs that might distract them from watching TV.

I'd say that this book could be taken out in about 3 afternoons (100 pages each). Or, for a more leisurely pace it should not take more than 6 afternoons of reading time. There are quite a few concepts in here, and the way that the author organized them needed some help. On one hand, some of the concepts were organized in bite sized pieces that took about 15 minutes to read. But on the other hand, he kept repeating the same overarching concepts AGAIN AND AGAIN within the sub-chapters. The chapters averaged about 35 pages each.

Verdict: If the book was 225 pages, I could say that it would have been worth the reading time. But this author just waffled on way too long repeating the same things OVER AND OVER.

Intellectual Recycling and Internet-Centrism, a tale of Cyber-Utopia Gone Really Wrong, November 30, 2012 By Abhinav Agarwal (Bangalore, India) -

Dunks a much needed, well-reasoned, and well-researched bucket of cold-water over "Internet-centrists" and "cyber-utopians" (cyber-utopianism is a "naïve belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication"), and assembles together an excellent though somewhat depressing array of evidence to dismantle this edifice of technology-centrists.

The Internet has revolutionized communications. It has certainly disintermediated and caused immense pain to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers as well as traditional media outlets and the newspaper business. But when people make a leap of logic and start assuming that the Internet has, can, should, and will engender socio-political revolutions in totalitarian, closed, dictatorial regimes, you have to start thinking that maybe there has been an ingestion of Kool Aid, gallons of it. While the basic thrust of the book is to argue, strongly, against making technology, and especially the Internet and social media, the main focus of an argument in favor of sociological and political change in societies, the argument itself is mutli-faceted.

This book can be clubbed together with other, similar-themed books as "The Shallows", by Nicholas Carr - that takes a fascinating look at how we learn and how the Internet short-circuits that learning process, "The Filter Bubble", by Eli Pariser - that is closer in theme to this book as it covers how the Internet may actually hamper our ability to think critically, and "Alone Together", by Sherry Turkle - that has a more sociological bent and how the individual becomes more alone even as he harbors the illusion of being more connected, that have called for a closer and more evidence-backed assessment of the impact of technology on both the individual and society.

This book was written before the surreptitious and never fully acknowledged Internet censorship imposed by the Government of India in 2012 on several prominent journalists and people active on the Internet - almost all, coincidentally, critical of the ruling party, using the riots in the northeastern state of Assam as a pretext to test the waters of cyber-censorship. It would be interesting to read the author's take on the issue, from both a distant observer's as well as academic's perspective.

The rush to proclaim Twitter, specifically, and all of social media in general, as the newest and infallible tools of freedom started with the Iranian protests in June 2009, with the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan declaring that "The Revolution Will Be Twittered". This despite the fact that less than 20,000 Twitter accounts were "registered in Iran (0.027 percent of the population) on the eve of the 2009 elections", according to "[A]nalysis by Sysomos, a social media analysis company". Worse, "[S]peaking in early 2010, Moeed Ahmad, director of new media for Al-Jazeera, stated that fact-checking by his channel during the protests could confirm only sixty active Twitter accounts in Tehran, a number that fell to six once the Iranian authorities cracked down on online communications."

Similar pronouncements of cyber-utopianism have gushed with equal juvenile abandon, like from "Mitch Kapor, one of the founding fathers of cyber-utopianism", who quoted Thomas Jefferson in his paean to cyberspace as something "founded on the primacy of individual liberty". "But Kapor hasn't read his Jefferson closely enough, for the latter was well aware of the antidemocratic spirit of many civil associations, writing that "the mobs of the great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body.""

Another member of this distinguished club, actually "one of the intellectual fathers of cyber-utopianism", would be Nicholas Negroponte, who "predicted in 1995 that "[on the Internet] there will be no more room for nationalism than there is for smallpox"?" The evidence for such sweeping claims is thin. In fact, quite the opposite may have happened. One may remember Negroponte from his other, more dangerously naïve and ill-thought One-Laptop-Per-Child project, rammed down the throats of equally clueless governments and agencies looking for a quick, big-bang solution to what are fundamentally intractable and immensely complex problems.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, propounded a "dictator's dilemma", when she said, on "a 2009 visit to Shanghai ... that "the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes" - implying that impeding political speech would also impede commercial speech - the two were inextricably tied. Very noble. Even her boss, Barrack Obama, President of the United States, echoed these views, when, "On a 2009 visit to Shanghai" he said, "the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes..."

Except that his message changed, considerably, when delivered to a domestic audience. "[W]hen he spoke to the graduates of Hampton University in Virginia less than six months later, Obama communicated almost a completely different message, complaining about "a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank all that high on the truth meter.... With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations ... information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment."

Even when it comes to practical application of the principles of free information propounded by Western democracies like the United States, there is a thin line, if at that, that separates their actions from the actions of repressive regimes. The efficacy of moral posturing is much diluted consequently.

"Twitter has been accused of silencing online tribute to the 2008 Gaza War. Apple has been bashed for blocking Dalai Lama-related iPhone apps from its App Store for China (an application related to Rebiya Kadeer, the exiled leader of the Uighur minority, was banned as well). Google, which owns Orkut, a social network that is surprisingly popular in India, has been accused of being too zealous in removing potentially controversial content that may be interpreted as calling for religious and ethnic violence against both Hindus and Muslims. Moreover, a 2009 study found that Microsoft has been censoring what users in the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Algeria, and Jordan could find through its Bing search engine much more heavily than the governments of those countries."

The argument in favor of cyber-regulation, "rapidly gaining traction among Western policymakers", is predicated on the belief that "cyberspace may lead to lawlessness in the real world" unless it is regulated. But it doesn't stop there. It may send a somewhat cyber-chill down your spine when you read that "In "Sovereignty in Cyberspace," a 2010 article published in Air Force Law Review, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Franzese, who is with the U.S. Strategic Command, proposed that "[American] users wanting to access the Internet globally could be required to use a biometric scanner before continuing.""

On the other hand, there is the more reasonable, and indeed very rational argument when "Parental associations want to make it easier to track online pedophile activities and protect their children." You really cannot argue with that.

"Hollywood, music studios, and publishing companies are pushing for better ways to track and delete unauthorized exchange of copyright-protected content."

"Banks want stricter identity controls to minimize online fraud."

Most of these arguments are reasonable ones. But here is the rub - what works for the goose works just as well for the gander (assuming I have got my phrase right). The gander here is of a decidedly darker shade.

"Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, funded in part by the Chinese government, have managed to build surveillance software that can automatically annotate and comment on what it sees, generating text files that can later be searched by humans"

Even the steps adopted by social activists to ensure anonymity, like using disposable SIM cards, or cell phones without identifiers, are also what terrorists copy - as countries that have suffered terrorism, like India, found out.

"Or consider Recognizr, the cutting-edge smartphone application developed by two Swedish software firms that allows anyone to point their mobile phone at a stranger and immediately query the Internet about what is known about this person"

But of course it could not be put to bad use by bad regimes, right? Why? Because isn't technology "neutral"? And therefore, goes the argument, it is nobody's business to think about the impact of technology on societies. A magic phrase like "neutrality" absolves the creators of these technologies of all responsibility of its impact.

"That we do not know how exactly knives will be used in the hands of young people in every particular situation is not a strong enough reason to allow them; knowing how they can be misused, on the other hand, even if the chance of misuse is small, provides us with enough information to craft a restricting policy."

The spectre of shrill, wide-eyed advocates rushing to hail the omnipotent transformative power of a new technology is an old one. It has happened before. It has happened often.

With the railways, "which Karl Marx believed would dissolve India's caste system", with television, and with the telegraph, when ""An 1858 editorial in New Englander proclaimed: "The telegraph binds together by a vital cord all the nations of the earth.... It is impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth."" That is just so touchingly innocent. Just three decades later, the misty-eyed adulation of the telegraph had given way to some decidedly morose hand-wringing.

"In 1889, the Spectator, one of the empire's finest publications, chided the telegraph for causing "a vast diffusion of what is called `news,' the recording of every event, and especially of every crime, everywhere without perceptible interval of time. The constant diffusion of statements in snippets ... must in the end, one would think, deteriorate the intelligence of all to whom the telegraph appeal.""

And while we are on this point, let us step back further in time, to the early years of the nineteenth century, when "newspapers, magazines, and coffee houses rapidly emerged as influential cultural institutions that gave rise to a broad and vocal public opinion." This led to the Dane, Søren Kierkegaard, to lament that "[N]ot a single one of those who belong to the public has an essential engagement in anything," ... As far as he was concerned, all the chatter produced in coffee houses only led to the "abolition of the passionate distinction between remaining silent and speaking." And silence for Kierkegaard was important, for "only the person who is essentially capable of remaining silent is capable of speaking essentially.""

""What Kierkegaard envisaged as a consequence of the press's irresponsible and uncommitted coverage is now fully realized on the World Wide Web," writes Hubert Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley."

Let us now return to the parade of technologies that were meant to transform societies.

"Like radio before it, television was expected to radically transform the politics of the time. In 1932 Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of the late president and then governor-general of the Philippines, predicted that TV would "stir the nation to a lively interest in those who are directing its policies and in the policies themselves," which would result in a "more intelligent, more concerted action from an electorate;"

I will not even comment on the above hope that the television would somehow result in more "intelligent" anything from the electorate. "The first automobiles were heralded as technologies that could make cities cleaner by liberating them of horse manure." There's a good amount of horse manure in that sentiment, if nothing else.

So why should the Internet be any different? Hordes of people, all eager to establish their credentials as the techno-intellectual seers of their age, rush forward with more and more fantastical claims about the technology that they can lay claim to being involved with, even if peripherally so.

Perhaps the most pernicious myths about the Internet are that repressive regimes are uniformly clueless and even powerless in the face of the onslaught of the mighty Internet. The evidence is decidedly, err, contrarian, shall we say?

"As the Chinese authorities began worrying about the growing unrest in Xinjiang in 2009, they simply turned off all Internet communications for ten months;"

"In 2009 the Nigerian government sought to enlist more than seven hundred Nigerians abroad and at home and create a so-called Anti-Bloggers Fund intended to raise a new generation of pro-government bloggers. Their compensation was cybercafé vouchers and blogging allowances." ... "Egypt is not far behind. Noticing that Facebook had been used to publicize antigovernment protests in 2008, Egyptian authoritarians decided to embrace the site as well--it was too popular to be banned. As Gamal Mubarak, the son of Hosni Mubarak and his likely successor, began giving online interviews, more than fifty Facebook groups, all of them supposedly of the grassroots variety, sprang up online to nominate him for the presidency." ... "In 2010 Iran's hard-liners launched their own social networking site, Valayatmadaran... ... Iran has been training a new generation of religious bloggers since 2006, when the Bureau for the Development of Religious Web Logs was set up at Qom, the center of religious scholarship in the country." ...

"In 2009 millions of customers of the state-controlled China Mobile, who perhaps were not feeling patriotic enough on the country's National Day, woke up to discover that the company replaced their usual ringback tone with a patriotic tune sang by the popular actor Jackie Chan and a female actress."

Had enough?

So why do allegedly intelligent people continue to insist that the Internet will free, open up, and emancipate repressed, closed societies?

Two words - "intellectual recycling"

Because "fax machines" brought down the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, so will the Internet bring down oppressive regimes. Thus goes the argument.

"To win the cyber-war, look to the Cold War," writes Mike McConnell, America's former intelligence chief. "[The fight for Internet freedom] is a lot like the problem we had during the Cold War," concurs Ted Kaufman, a Democratic senator from Delaware."

These are "selective and, at times, incorrect readings of history, rewritten to glorify the genius of Ronald Reagan and minimize the role of structural conditions and the inherent contradictions of the Soviet system."

Complicated explanations are just that - complicated. People want one-line explanations. "Fax machines" are easier to remember than "structural and socio-economic".

When people compare the Berlin Wall with the Internet Firewall, it is useful as a metaphor. It is not a very comparable analogy to begin with, and as the analogy gathers momentum and sticks in the public's mind, it is easy to forget that "All metaphors come with costs, for the only way in which they can help us grasp a complex issue is by downplaying some other, seemingly less important, aspects of that issue." For instance, people forget that "Physical walls are cheaper to destroy than to build; their digital equivalents work the other way around." And do not forget that DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, for instance, can be carried with ease not only by governments but also cyber-criminals.

Social media sites like Facebook, that social activists have to use simply because everyone else is also there, also make it the job of repressive regimes easier in tracking dissidents. An email address can be used to link and follow activists across such social media sites. Hacking one activist's social media account can expose several other activists too. "In the past, the KGB resorted to torture to learn of connections between activists; today, they simply need to get on Facebook."

Ominously enough, "In some cases, the state does not need to become directly involved at all. Tech-savvy groups of individuals loyal to a particular cause or national government will harness their networks to censor their opponents".

"The most famous of such networks is a mysterious online organization that calls itself Jewish Internet Defense Force (JIDF). This pro-Israel advocacy group made headlines by compiling lists of anti-Israeli Facebook groups, infiltrating them to become their administrators, and ultimately disabling them. One of its most remarkable accomplishments was deleting nearly 110,000 members from a 118,000-strong Arabic-language group sympathetic to Hezbollah."

The Internet, instead of serving as a tool for organizing and galvanizing opposition to repressive regimes, can actually work much like West German television broadcasts did for East Germans - it "allowed East Germans to vicariously escape life under communism at least for a couple of hours each night, making their lives more bearable and the East German regime more tolerable.... West German television exposure resulted in a net increase in regime support." Similarly, "online entertainment--especially spiced up with pornography--can serve as a great distraction from politics."

Even this "better integration of academics and intellectuals from authoritarian states into a global intellectual sphere" comes with a significant cost - "at the expense of severing their ties to local communities. ...

Not surprisingly, most of them are better informed about what's going on in Greenwich Village than in their own town hall."

Between two similar but also different portraits of "diffusion of power and control under democracy, communism, and fascism", one being George Orwell's "1984", and the other being Aldous Huxley's "A Brave New World", much has come true that was described in both books, though even there, "Both Huxley's and Orwell's books have been pigeonholed to serve a particular political purpose: one to attack the foundations of modern capitalism, the other the basis of modern authoritarianism. ... To assume that all political regimes can be mapped somewhere on an Orwell-Huxley spectrum is an open invitation to simplification[.]"

The author writes that simply becoming part of a group, like an online group, that, for instance, we simply have to click "Like" to become a part of, makes us feel that we have done our bit in effecting change, without actually having to do anything. "Take a popular Facebook cause, Saving the Children of Africa. At first sight, it does look impressive, with over 1.7 million members, until you discover that they have raised about $12,000 (less than one-hundredth of a penny per person)."

Real change requires real people willing to suffer real pain - people "brave and ready to die or go to prison if the circumstances so require. ...Such people may not be terrifically successful in undermining the power of the regime, but they might (one thinks of Gandhi) be setting an important moral example that could nudge the rest of their fellow citizens."

And finally, lest we believe that "Tweets" will "dissolve all of our national, cultural, and religious differences", be aware that "they may actually accentuate them."

"For instance, it's almost certain that a Russian white supremacist group that calls itself the Northern Brotherhood would have never existed in the pre-Internet era. It has managed to set up an online game in which participants--many of them leading a comfortable middle-class existence--are asked to videotape their violent attacks on migrant guest workers, share them on YouTube, and compete for cash awards.

...

Crime gangs in Mexico have also become big fans of the Internet. Not only do they use YouTube to disseminate violent videos and promote a climate of fear, but they are also reportedly going through social networking sites hunting for personal details of people to kidnap. It doesn't help that the offspring of Mexico's upper classes are all interconnected on Facebook."

While people will continue to argue that the Internet is really an enabler of social change, going further to make the case that social media will engender true revolution, just as fax machines had caused the Berlin Wall to fall. Since the Internet continues to change, to evolve, it is certainly possible that this somewhat utopian potential of the Internet will be realized someday. However, the evidence at hand, as argued forth in this book, suggests that that day has not quite arrived, nor are there any green shoots to suggest that that premise is going to be met anytime soon. It is tempting to dismiss this book as the diatribe of a technophobe, but that is to simply shoot the messenger, while conveniently ignoring the message. While technological nihilism is certainly not being argued for, a balanced assessment of the impact of technology, and the Internet in particular, is long overdue.

To conclude with a couple of points, firstly, be aware that the message of this book is likely to be depressing for many, including people like me who somehow believed, till recently, in the omnipotence of the Internet in effecting meaningful, social change. There are no easy solutions, and indeed, even the last chapter, "The Wicked Fix", doesn't really provide any easy quick-fixes. It leaves us with more, open, unanswered questions, than any answers. Whether it is a drawback of the book or an simple, honest acknowledgment that the questions posed by the Internet simply do not have any obvious or easy solutions is upto the reader to infer.

The second quibble with the book is that there is some amount of repetition - when criticizing Internet-centrism, for instance, the critique appears in several places in the book, and reads repetitive.

Overall, the organization of the book is excellent, but for my money I would have preferred if some of the historical context, that appears in the latter half of the book, had actually appeared earlier in the book. But this is a matter of personal opinion to some extent.

And oh yes, how could I forget the caustic titles of chapters and sections? That alone could be well worth the price of admission! A sample:

"The Unimaginable Consequences of an Imagined Revolution" "Nostalgia's Lethal Metaphors" "Hold On to Your Data Grenade, Comrade!" "Online Discontents and Their Content Intellectuals" "The Kremlin Likes Blogs and So Should You" "Darning Mao's Socks, One SMS at a Time" "On Mobile Phones That Limit Your Mobility" "Putting the Nyet in Networks"

Joshua Gammons See all my reviews
best book on technology and global politics I've read in a while..., December 9, 2011

let me get this out of the way: The Net Delusion is surely one of the best researched book on the subject of the Internet, global politics, and the politics of technology in general. It's also the most global in outlook, with examples ranging from Vietnam to Belarus to Zimbabwe to Venezuela to Nigeria. And the range of cultural references is impressive too.

Morozov makes too many important points to summarize here but I think some of the most important ones are a) the Internet does not operate in a vacuum but rather in a political space that is already filled wiht power; that power will obviously react to the Internet b) The way we think about the power of the Internet is very much related to history, culture, ideology; policymakers are bound to make mistakes because their thinking about the Web is not free of such biases and they'd better work in such biases into their policy-making process c) much of what the American government has been online in the last few years was either stupid or counterproductive

There's much more in the book. Morozov's got a dark but subtle sense of humor and sometimes it takes several readings to get his jokes - but once you do, they are, indeed, extremely funny!

All in all, this is by far one of the most important books on technology and politics this year - if not in the last ten years.

Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK)

The dark side of the internet - may the (secret police) force be with you, August 19, 2011

I think the most worrying aspect of this book is that it needed to be written at all. Over a course of some 320 pages, in "The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World" Evgeny Morozov reviews all of the bad ways in which the internet (and most particularly social networking and blogging on it) can be used to counter and contain the spread of democracy and personal freedoms while we happily delude ourselves that it is being used to achieve the exact opposite.

Martin Zook "Martin Zook" (Virginia)

Wild, thought provoking, creative, global, look at the net, June 22, 2011

...Ironically, authoritarian regimes are probably better at understanding how to use the net to strengthen the power over the people they govern, according to Morozoz. The research to corroborate this claim made me sit up in my seat. He also points out that the populations in the authoritarian states are not necessarily yearning to be free. They're after information that will help them put a roof over the head, food on the table, and achieve desired happiness.

"The age of new media with its characteristic fragmentation of public discourse and decentralization of control has made the lives of propaganda officials toiling in stuffy offices of authoritarian governments considerably easier," Morozov writes. Use of the net has also eased tracking dissidents by security bodies, once again the net works against those yearning for democratic freedoms.

The Guardian (UK)

Morozov's excellent essay demonstrates the net is not all good news, March 29, 2011

Evgeny Morozov's `The Net Delusion' is an informative and wide-ranging essay on the growth and increasing power of the internet as an agency of global change, with some less than optimistic conclusions. Taking as a start-point the way in which political-interest websites and blogs have been created by dissidents in an attempt to organise and focus opposition to less democratic regimes such as those in China, Iran and elsewhere, he broadens out his thesis to examine ways in which entrenched political interests have started to use the most successful spin-offs of the new technologies (facebook, twitter) to identify, keep track of and arrest dissenters; and that these developments of internet technologies now enable the exercise of a degree of social control far greater than was previously possible.

The author knows his subject, and utilises plentiful and relevant citations from the enormous academic bibliography listed in the index to support his argument. It is recognised that people the world over seek entertainment and frivolity from the net far more often than they engage in political or philosophical discourse; extrapolating from this data Morozov makes a convincing case that the new technologies may therefore be exploited as a more insidious agency of social control and management. He compares the 1948 totalitarian vision of Orwell's Stalinist surveillance society in `1984' with Huxley's earlier but far more seductive and ultimately more accurate vision of the future in `Brave New World' where the status quo is maintained by giving people what they want and keeping them happy on the farm. The work of Kern and Heinmuller (`Opium for the masses: how foreign media can stabilize authoritarian regimes') demonstrated the narcotizing function of unfettered access to entertainment media, in that youth in the old GDR who were able to see western TV broadcasts were overall found to be more satisfied and comfortable with the regime, whereas those in the eastern part of the state who were unable to view western TV were more politicized and critical of the regime (cited on p65). Control exercised through narcotizing entertainment is cheaper and easier than repression and brutality, so it's obvious which way a dictator determined to retain power and control would choose.

Morozov points out that the reason most western politicians and political commentators believe in the power of the net as a vehicle of emancipation by making information universally available, is because they have not given the matter much thought: "information does not flow in a vacuum, but in a political space already occupied" (p25). Due to its inherent benefits of mass information pooling and storage, the internet is empowering the secret police, censors and propaganda offices of authoritarian regimes to such a degree that the process of democratization is likely to become more difficult, rather than easier. Similarly, if the alternative to paternalistic authoritarianism is weak government (or worse, a free-for-all of ethnic factionalism and chaos) then people are likely to ultimately choose the certainties and clear boundaries defined by authoritarianism.

Overall this is a valuable and thoughtful essay by an informed writer. He often digresses from his central argument but such digressions (such as for example his analysis of the narcissism-promoting social networking sites and the shallowness with which members embrace `causes' so long as they don't have to actually do anything) are invariably enlightening and poignant. Morozov has a good, easy-to-read writing style laced with occasional dark humour, and his 320-page book is well worth reading as an engaging and radical perspective on the way the technology revolution may be leading us as a global society.

David Wineberg "David Wineberg" (New York, NY USA)

Momentum is easier when you're rolling down a slippery hill, March 24, 2011

The Net Delusion is powerful, and it gains power as it rolls through its 320 pages. It took quite a while to lock me in; the first hundred pages gave me little I didn't already know. I admit I began to get fidgety, but the next couple of hundred pages gave me a ton of insight, building on what came before. The structure of it all is therefore quite impressive, as is the research. Morosov seems to have looked at essentially everything, prying a single, highly targeted quote from most sources. The result is a very inclusive and empirically supported shot at the Alice in Wonderland world of the internet as dictator-killer. The pace quickens, the momentum builds. It becomes a compelling read. Bravo, Morosov.

I particularly appreciated the view from the other side - of the ocean, of the rose-colored glasses, of the political spectrum. For example, Morosov says that as other countries develop their own social networking and search services (if only to keep track of their own potentially troublesome citizens), the Googles and Facebooks the US offers are being seen more and more as digital versions of Halliburton and Exxon. That's a perspective that should be shaking things up at Google, which portrays itself as the good guys from every conceivable angle.

Morosov wraps it up with a call for perspective - historical perspective. We will not change human nature with the internet, because nothing ever has, and the internet is just another technology that will fail to make critical changes in human nature - like telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV - which had that promise and which all failed the challenge. And without knowing and accounting for the past and the present, we have no business making naive prognostications about Twitter saving Iran - which clearly is not happening - or China suddenly rising up because of Amazon's department store on the net.

It's a cold shower of important perspective. It needed to be said, and I can't imagine it being better said than it is in The Net Delusion.

By Diziet "I Like Toast" (Netherlands)

All The World Loves A Lolcat, March 15, 2011 Growing up in Belarus and then living in the US, Mr Morozov has had opportunities to view the Internet from 'both sides'. He has seen at first hand both authoritarian attempts at controlling the spread of the Internet and libertarian attempts at maintaining the Internet's growth throughout the world.

This experience has allowed him to develop some useful views. He contrasts attitudes to the Internet basically between 'cyber-utopians' and 'cyber-cons'. The former he defines as those who have:

'...a quasi-religious belief in the power of the Internet to do supernatural things, from eradicating illiteracy in Africa to organizing all of the world's information...Opening up closed societies and flushing them with democracy juice until they shed off their authoritarian skin is just one of the expectations placed on the Internet these days.' (P19)

On the other hand, there are the 'cyber-cons' (an on-line version of neo-conservatives) who still view the world from an essentially Cold War perspective. Thus, they are bound by cold-war metaphors. But, as he points out:

'Breaching a powerful firewall is in no way similar to the breaching of the Berlin Wall or the lifting of passport controls at Checkpoint Charlie...[T]he cyber-wall metaphor falsely suggests that once digital barriers are removed, new and completely different barriers won't spring up in their place' (P44-45)

Between these two extremes, which overlap and inform each other, he analyses the effects of Twitter, Facebook, mobile telephony and the growing belief that all dissidents have to do is set up a Facebook page and the revolution will miraculously occur. He points out, in some detail, just how false these beliefs are and clearly shows that authoritarian regimes are hardly likely to stand back and watch in horror, but are themselves active participants. In fact, organizing demonstrations and the like by mobile phone or Twitter can actually deliver the dissidents into the hands of the authorities.

As stated, China is not going to sit back and simply let lots of people create anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) blogs, web-sites and Facebook pages. They can mobilise their own supporters to create the same Internet facilities to actively support the regime (this is neatly confirmed in 'The Party'' by Richard McGregor). In many countries, this has been a growing phenomenon with or without active government support. The number of web-sites and blogs promoting Russian nationalism, for example, provide a significant counter to any 'democratising movement'.

Morozov makes some pointed historical comparisons - in the past, it was believed that the telegraph would bring about World Peace, then it was the aeroplane, next radio (remember the BBC's motto 'Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation'), then television. As we can see, none of these previous technologies appear to have enhanced the opportunities for greater international understanding, instead often bringing about a 'tribalism' as groups retreat from the huge volume of information into self-reinforcing cliques - an idea also explored by Jodi Dean in her book Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies'. Think here of US talk radio and Fox News.

Morozov challenges the notion that all these disaffected people in authoritarian states are hungry for news from the 'outside', from the liberated West. He's right, of course. As he puts it in a chapter entitled 'Orwell's Favourite lolcat' the vast majority of people are far more interested in funny videos on YouTube and pornography.

He creates a further contrast between Orwellian and Huxleyan visions of the future - 'The Orwell-Huxley Sandwich Has Expired' (P75) and suggests that we are far closer to the Huxley end of this spectrum than the Orwellian. Personally, I'm not convinced. As he says himself, the trouble with metaphor is that it is easy to go from saying that something is 'like' something else to saying it is 'exactly like' and so, to my mind, what we have, what is developing, owes much to both Orwell and Huxley - from 'celeb TV' and 'lolcats' to ubiquitous CCTV and monitored mobile phones (or the two together, in the case of the News of the World).

This is a highly detailed examination of the Internet as it has developed over the last twenty years but, to be honest, it does get rather repetitive. The final chapter attempts to put forward some pointers and some suggestions for maintaining the openness of the Internet. But these are rather rushed and not given nearly as much detail as the exposition of the problems currently faced by the technology.

Still, it is very informative, if not particularly optimistic. Given developments since he wrote the book (the US government's continued attacks on WikiLeaks and, by extension, Twitter, the formation of Facebook groups such as the Gaza Youth Movement, where you can simply link to the page to show your (virtual) support) I think we are seeing the slow end of the 'Adam Smithian' free-range Internet and what develops to take it's place will not be so inspirational.

Dave Kuhlman "interested reader" (Sacramento, CA USA)

Morozov's focus is on movements and protests against dictatorial rulers. But, much of what he says is likely applicable to demonstrations and political movements within a legal framework.

I feel that Morozov is correct to caution us about believing that the Internet and the World Wide Web will magically change the world for us. However, I've got to believe that the Internet and some of our newer communication capabilities have to make a difference.

Still, Morozov is surely correct that more is needed than merely lots of mobile phones, lots of tweets, etc. The form of organization, the determination of the protesters, the expertise of the protesters all matter.

Morozov is absolutely on target in suggesting that communication technology is a competitive evolution: as protesters attempt to find and use the latest technology, the ruling powers attempt to find technologies to defeat them. And, the protesters attempt to find methods to counter those measures.

So, what is important for a protest movement against a repressive government? (1) The ability to share open information. (2) The ability to evade government censorship. (3) The ability to remain hidden from government so as to avoid repression and punishment.

Perhaps the lesson is that the techniques needed to run a clandestine, hidden protest and to escape persecution are different from those needed to run an open, popular one.

It is now so easy and cheap to create and distribute content, resulting in huge amounts of content available at so many locations. This makes it harder than ever to attract the attention and readership needed move minds and bodies.

Some possible conclusions after reading "Net delusion": (1) The Internet, the Web, and other new communications technologies can help, but are not going to solve all problems. (2) There are down-sides to unwise use of these technologies, in particular, a brutal government can use those technologies in its attempts at repression. (3) Protesters and those who seek to dislodge a autocratic government need to chose their tools carefully and to invest time and effort into learning how to use them.

The problems discussed in this book are rightfully known as "wicked" problems. There are no easy fixes; there are not even any reasonably accessible technological fixes. We might as well get used to that. We live in a society and civilization that has solved most of the easy ones. And, in doing so, we've made use of most of the easily accessible resources. Some of the problems that face us now will be very, very difficult ones. Examples are (1) dislodging entrenched, oppressive regimes (Morozov's concern), (2) climate change and warming, (3) the depletion and over-use of water, (4) the depletion and over-use of fossil fuels, (5) population increase, (6) poverty and hunger.

Morozov intends to criticize those who believe that, with respect to opposition to oppressive governments, the Internet and new communication technologies "changes everything". He is telling us that they do not work as well nor as smoothly as we've been told. But, it's very easy to re-interpret his critique and as encouragement and guidance on using these technologies more innovatively and to greater effect. Since I'm a believer in Open Source software development, I'm predicting that much of the software that we will see in the near future that will be used by protest movements, and used against them too, will be created by Open Source developers.

There are many moves to yet to be made in this game. I wonder what the use of heavy amounts of video will have on attempts by a repressive regime to censor and filter content. Video is harder and slower to scan and filter than text, which can be searched for "dangerous" words and content by software. China, in particular, is likely to have difficulty controlling these attempts with anything other than a heavy-handed blockage or all content. Still, Morozov is spot on to emphasize that repressive governments are becoming very skilled at using and blocking the use of communications.

This kind of development is not likely to stop or even slow down because of Morozov's warnings. I'm hoping it does not. Complex and powerful forms of communication and information distribution are what advanced societies are built of. I'm hoping that there are many more new developments in the near future.

[Nov 12, 2013] How Google paved the way for NSA's intercepts - just as The Register predicted 9 YEARS AGO

The Register

Flashback Much hilarity has greeted Eric Schmidt's deeply sincere "outrage" at his "discovery" that the NSA was spying on Google. For example, Vanity Fair pointed Mr Schmidt to some helpful Google searches.

But the NSA is merely treading in some well-worn footsteps – some of which were made by Google itself. Let us refresh your memory of one of the most prescient and chilling pieces of prediction in the last decade. For all this was forecast here at The Register in early 2004 – nine years ago.

In early 2004, Google launched Gmail. Gmail performed an automated interception of your email, and – having scanned the contents and guessed at its meaning – ran contextual advertising alongside it.

Former security advisor Mark Rasch, an attorney who had worked in the Department of Justice's cyberfraud department during the Clinton administration, and was writing for Security Focus, raised a very interesting problem. If Google could search through and read your email without explicit legal authorisation, then surely the security agencies could do the same.

Rasch argued that Google had redefined the words "read" ("learn the meaning") and "search", which protect citizens, when it unveiled its new contextual ads service. It had removed explicit human agency from the picture. An automated search wasn't really a search, and its computers weren't really "reading".

"This is a dangerous legal precedent which both law enforcement and intelligence agencies will undoubtedly seize upon and extend, to the detriment of our privacy," forecast Rasch, here, in June 2004.

"Google will likely argue that its computers are not 'people' and therefore the company does not 'learn the meaning' of the communication. That's where we need to be careful. We should nip this nonsensical argument in the bud before it's taken too far, and the federal government follows."

Remarkably, Rasch even suggested where the security services might most effectively put this into practice.

"Imagine if the government were to put an Echelon-style content filter on routers and ISPs, where it examines billions of communications and 'flags' only a small fraction (based upon, say, indicia of terrorist activity). Even if the filters are perfect and point the finger only completely guilty people, this activity still invades the privacy rights of the billions of innocent individuals whose communications pass the filter," he wrote. "Simply put, if a computer programmed by people learns the contents of a communication, and takes action based on what it learns, it invades privacy."

Well, fancy that.

Rasch returned to the subject several times over the years – for example here, where he discussed the implications of cloud computing.

But very few people wanted to know. Examining the ethics of internet giants is apparently vulgar. Free email, free cloud services, and bringing freedom to oppressed regimes - who wants to look a gift horse in the mouth? Through a network of think-tanks and "internet freedom" groups – it's a substantial donor to Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and many others – Google even maintained the illusion that it was on your side.

Yet after pioneering an ethical loophole in the public imagination that government agencies jumped through, it spent the following decade lobbying furiously to weaken citizens' property rights. It's extraordinary what a small amount of money can buy.

Pundits and punters and politicians love to hear how Google is creating clever machines - but they seem loathe to accept that there's a Wizard behind the curtain, or that said Wizard may have a ruthless focus on its own self-interest.

"It's just bad public policy ... and perhaps illegal," fretted Schmidt to the WSJ. "There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them."

It's too late, Eric. Google not only made that bed, it set up the bed store

Anonymous Coward

Re: The past really is prologue!

I have never been very fond of Google's collection and retention of this-and-that from it's users.

Yes, but try avoid it. They collect direct data, meta data and atmospherics, about the only company in the world that can do this, apparently without any real legal problems (unless the EU does not give in to the relentless lobbying and US blackmail behind the scenes). When it comes to tax, they live abroad, as soon as legal problems arise, they're all of a sudden a US company.

"It's just bad public policy ... and perhaps illegal," fretted Schmidt to the WSJ. "There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them."

Bad people are just the pretext. The whole "bad people" thing is way overblown to start with, and what is happening is so far in excess of what is required that you can assume with a high degree of certainty that that wasn't the goal at all. It's a pork fest on the back of the tax payer, the tax payer who is already bleeding from another pork fest gone wrong at Wall Street. The genius lies in the fact that they managed to export the costs beyond the borders.

</soapbox>

Phil Atkin

Thank you for writing this

When people claim to me that Google are somehow kinder, nicer, less oppressive than Apple I shall think of this and smile.

SuccessCase

Re: Thank you for writing this

I like a company that offers good service and charges a good price for doing so. It is a straightforward transaction, you know where you stand, it is business as old as civilisation and there is a simply honesty about what is being transacted. With Google on the other hand, you are the product, you are the food on the table that Google are putting on sale in the Google restaurant.

I prefer the relationship where I pay upfront for what I use and consume. I think it results in a healthier relationship where the supplier works hard to ensure they justify their supplies to me, their customer.

People often talk about Apple without actually checking for themselves. Compare Apple's privacy policy with Google's. Really read it and think about what each company is committing to. The difference is night and day. Google use obscure language that is far from upfront and which hides what they really are reserving the right to do from the unwary. The differences provide an example of the different forces at play in the two business models.

[Nov 12, 2013] Netflix, Youtube Surpass 50% Mark of Internet Traffic

Looks like interception of traffic is now more complex then it ever was. Multimedia and bittorrent traffic dominates and it is difficult to analyze it automatically.
Slashdot

First time accepted submitter sqorbit writes

"Netflix and Youtube are gaining ground not only on the competition, such as Amazon, but also over peer-to-peer file sharing. Netflix claims more than 30 million customers and believes it could double that number in the future. Traffic from Netflix and Youtube amounted to over 50% of Internet traffic in September. Meanwhile Bittorrent traffic is down slightly (7.4% from 10%) in Internet traffic compared to last year. Could more people be satisfied with current video offerings or are less people finding useful things to download via file sharing?"

Powercntrl

Thanks Google (Score:4, Interesting)

I was indifferent about YouTube until it inexplicably linked itself to my Gmail account and now wants me to create a Google+ page in order to comment on videos. Now, I'd like nothing more to see it go up in flames, like a Tesla that hit some road debris.

Forever Wondering

Re:Thanks Google

Logout [of gmail] first [possibly clearing some cookies] and you'll have no problem. I have a gmail account [but I only access it through POP3/IMAP from thunderbird--thus, it's never logged in] and I don't have the same problem. I did have the same problem one time when I was logged into gmail.

If you'd rather not logout/login on gmail repeatedly, you can create a separate browser profile [Firefox, at least] for youtube, etc.

Solandri

Re:Thanks Google

If you'd rather not logout/login on gmail repeatedly, you can create a separate browser profile [Firefox, at least] for youtube, etc.

Or easier yet, use one browser just for logging into gmail, another browser for other stuff.

lgw

Re:Thanks Google (Score:2)

Or easier yet, cut the cord to the gmail mothership! There are other webmail products (I'm in the midst of switching to outlook.com). Yahoo and MS may have serve ads, but it's vastly less intrusive than googles omni-present tracking...

[Nov 05, 2013] How to Stop Google, Yahoo & Bing from Tracking Your Clicks

See also http://www.googlesharing.net/. Cnet rates DoNotTrackMe "Spectacular".

Whenever you click a link in Google Search, your click is redirected through a secret URL. If the site you're going to is http://www.cybernetnews.com/, Google will do a secret redirect through a URL that looks similar to http://www.google.com/url?url=http://www.cybernetnews.com/. In some cases, you can reveal the secret redirect by right-clicking on a linked search result. If that doesn't work, your last resort is an HTTP sniffer.

There are several Firefox add-ons that claim to get rid of Google Search's click tracking. CustomizeGoogle is one of them. Among other tweaks, it promises to remove click tracking and disable Google Analytics cookies. If you just want the anti-tracking feature without the bells and whistles, there's a Greasemonkey script you can download called Google Tracking B-Gone. To use Greasemonkey scripts, you need to install the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox. Also, if you use an international version of Google such as google.co.uk, you have to change the script's URL range from http://*.google.com/* to http://*.google.*/* to ensure that the script is allowed to operate on your local Google site.

[Nov 05, 2013] WAPO New Docs Show NSA Infiltration of Google and Yahoo Accounts Worldwide

Nov 04, 2013 | Daily Kos
DartagnanFollow

http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

Documents released by Edward Snowden show how the NSA broke into the main communication links connecting Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, enabling it to collect pretty much everything you've ever done on the Internet. Assuming you're a "foreigner" (wink, wink!).

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.
In fact, your data ("data" includes both metadata and content, presumably everything you've ever written, every video and picture you've viewed, every search you've made, for starters) is already stored away, waiting to be scrutinized at any time by an enterprising young NSA fellow if they should take an interest in you, for whatever reason. As is the case with most of these Snowden revelations, the collection of private data is a process already well underway:
According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA's acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency's Fort Meade headquarters.
As USA Today observes, this newly revealed spying "appears to give government snoops access to not just contact lists and address books – last week's Snowden revelation – but all e-mail and business documents, including Google docs which is used by hundreds of thousands of companies."

The tool they are using to steal and collect your private data for future use is known as MUSCULAR. This tool enables them to dispense with the PRISM infiltration, which requires Court approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.

The MUSCULAR project appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies. The agency is built for high-tech spying, with a wide range of digital tools, but it has not been known to use them routinely against U.S. companies.

MUSCULAR is purportedly only in use "overseas," which is of course an immense relief, since nothing we have seen thus far from the NSA would remotely suggest they'd use such a tool domestically.
Intercepting communications overseas has clear advantages for the NSA, with looser restrictions and less oversight. NSA documents about the effort refer directly to "full take," "bulk access" and "high volume" operations on Yahoo and Google networks. Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.
No one from the "Directorate" appears ready to discuss this yet. Coming just one day after the head of the Agency dismissed stories of sweeping up the phone records of millions of Europeans as "completely false," that's quite understandable.
White House officials and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, declined to confirm, deny or explain why the agency infiltrates Google and Yahoo networks overseas.
One of the more striking documents revealed today is what appears to be a little post-it tab (actually a slide from an internal NSA presentation, presumably held over coffee and donuts) where some bored NSA staffer drew a smiley-face to celebrate the NSA's infiltration of Google's cloud.
In hand-printed letters, the drawing notes that encryption is "added and removed here!" The artist adds a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.
This Agency is completely out of control.

FoodChillinMFr

BREAKING: NSA spied on the Vatican. (33+ / 0-)

http://www.businessinsider.com/...

So we have control over the money flow, taps on everyone using the internet, taps on on world leaders, taps on all business and corps,

and now evidence of taps on Religious Leaders.

If they tapped the Vatican, they sure as hell tapped every other religious organization.

What the hell is going on here? This is global takeover kinda stuff, or at least the potential is there.

"So what if a guy threw a shoe at me!"

gjohnsit

Love it or leave it

The spying that is.

None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. -Johann von Goethe

mimi

My muscles had a spontaneous reaction

to wanting to punch the MUSCULAR Program's initiators, supporters, developers and founding fathers in the face.

This comes from a foreigner in the US and a foreigner in Germany and an altogether stupid idiot like me.

Not that I didn't expect that to be the case anyhow. So, how are foreign correspondence news and images searches via google collected ... we are all darn foreigners who report on American affairs to them foreigners in Europe.

F'n unacceptable.

JML9999

So the NSA is good spending Billions/year

so that they can Cyberstalk, downloading porn, spying on our allies but can't stop two morons with "Grannie's" pressure cooker when one of the morons is already in "The system"......

Got it

James Hepburn

Too busy spying on progressives and protesters

When the same contractors the NSA uses to spy on us are also working for Bank of America, Hunton & Williams, and the Chamber of Commerce to attack labor unions, independent, progressive journalists, and any "left-leaning critics" of Wall Street, it's perfectly clear what the real agenda is here.

Two years ago, a batch of stolen e-mails revealed a plot by a set of three defense contractors (Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal) to target activists, reporters, labor unions and political organizations. The plans- one concocted in concert with lawyers for the US Chamber of Commerce to sabotage left-leaning critics, like the Center for American Progress and the SEIU, and a separate proposal to "combat" WikiLeaks and its supporters, including Glenn Greenwald, on behalf of Bank of America - fell apart after reports of their existence were published online.

But the episode serves as a reminder that the expanding spy industry could use its government-backed cybertools to harm ordinary Americans and political dissident groups.

Stwriley

And not intelligent.

I could almost believe in the benevolent oversight of a non-human AI that was designed from the ground up to "protect and defend". But the NSA's system, even once they figure out all the problems associated with sifting that much data, isn't an AI or anything like it. It's just a dumb tool and will likely stay that way for a long time. The real intelligence in action belongs to the NSA staffers and contractors who are running that tool and making all the decisions, every one of them human to the core.

And that's what's really scary.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

snoopydawg

Why the HELL isn't Congress

Bitching about that excessive abuse of funds? M

Hell no, they have to gut SNAP, WIC, and other programs that he the poor. God, has there been a less useless Congress then the current crop? Both sides.

How many BA contractors are getting insider trading info when they listen to corporstions?

Would Congress please do their fucking jobs?

Holder, SEC?

Passing a law that the Constitution doesn't allow does not negate the Constitution, it negates the law that was passed. Secret courts can't make up secret laws. SORRY FOR THE TYPOS :)

Selphinea

You think they're not doing their jobs?

They're doing exactly what they were paid to do!

Patriotism is another word for nationalism. Nationalism is another word for bigotry.

snoopydawg

Paid by whom?

When we pay their salary, they are supposed to work for us. I get that most ofbthem are owned by the corporations. But I want them to do the job we elected them to do.

Passing a law that the Constitution doesn't allow does not negate the Constitution, it negates the law that was passed. Secret courts can't make up secret laws. SORRY FOR THE TYPOS :)

Selphinea

"We"? Who's "we"?

Oh, the poor. Ha ha, you think you're people, how cute.

Patriotism is another word for nationalism. Nationalism is another word for bigotry.

ewhac

"Safe from Terrorism"

So: The NSA has built for itself the ability to comprehensively monitor pretty much the entire unencrypted Internet, and probably a fair amount of the encrypted traffic as well.

Meanwhile, malware authors and spammers run free because it's "too difficult" for law enforcement to go after them. Compromised Windows system remain so because it's "too difficult" to identify the compromised machines and notify their owners to clean them out.

The economic meltdown of 2008, and the economic meltdown of yet-to-come, can't be investigated much less prosecuted because it's "too difficult" to obtain the necessary evidence to proceed, even though there was almost certainly collusion across international boundaries. Over phone lines. Which are all tapped.

But not to worry because TERERIZM!!

koNko

Fix: echo off

Um .... Inside the NSA's Ultra-Secret China Hacking Group

All of the Senate and White House duping and fear mongering about China the past couple of years hasn't worked out so great.

There's a really good article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs you should read, The End of Hypocrisy, By Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore (paywall).

Daniel W. Drezner provides a poor man's version here with a response from Farrell here.

stevemb

Another Way The NSA Enables Spammers

If the e-mail infrastructure had strong encryption built into it (as should have been done long ago, but was prevented by NSA-driven obstructionism), the extra computational load of sending millions of e-mails would be prohibitive for the typical chicken-boner spamhaus. (Legitimate e-mail lists wouldn't be much affected; even large ones are typically a couple orders of magnitude smaller than a spam run.)

On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

ewhac

Not the Entire Story

The NSA's influence was certainly part of the equation, but relatively minor at the time in light of other factors.

One was that there was a strong civil libertarian streak in the people who designed the net and its protocols. Making the email infrastructure spam-proof would require an authorization infrastructure ("You have permission"), which would require an authentication infrastructure ("And just who are you, anyway?"). There was widespread sentiment that the authentication component -- traceably proving to an authority who you were -- would undermine anonymity, which was seen as valuable.

Another problem is that, at the time, RSA held a patent on public key cryptography, and were charging usurious amounts for licenses. Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), a public key cryptography package for end users, had been independently developed and was available, but nobody wanted to incorporate it commercially because they didn't want to risk a ruinous patent lawsuit from RSA. The only widespread alternative at the time was 56-bit DES, a symmetric cipher which became trivially crackable in the late 1990's.

As for the increased computational load that strong crypto would require, modern spamming doesn't use its own resources, as rogue domains are blacklisted fairly quickly. Rather, they steal resources by distributing the spam through millions of compromised Windows systems.

bluicebank

I want some results from my loss of civil rights!

Damnit.

Damn you, NSA. If you're going to go all 1984 on us, at least have the competence to ferret out the spammers and catch the occasional bomb thrower.

I swear to our Simulated Universe Overlords, this is incompetence, pure and simple. Fuckers.

Slightly Wobbly

It looks like a roomful of lawyers

During the SCO-IBM trial someone referred to the IBM legal team as the Nazgul. Pretty apt: these are not people you want coming after you.

IndyCasella

I don't know where the NSA stops and Google

begins or vice versa.

I doubt they're shocked. They knew about this connection before we did. I think they're all playing ignorant and outraged for the cameras.

Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

CIndyCasella

Google is the NSA dressed up as Grandma from the

looks of things here.

Grandma, what big ears you have! The better to record you, my dear.

Oh, Grandma, what big eyes you have! The better to film you with my dear!

Information is the currency of democracy. ~Thomas Jefferson

lalo456987

The Google business...

of "Cloud computing" is one of the major drivers of their revenue going forward.

This is a big f***ing deal to them, and it pretty much throws the business out the window if security is meaningless because of unwarranted (and I mean that literally) eavesdropping.

It used to be that emails were like postcards, it now seems that all cloud-based computing will have to be imagined in the same way: everything stored in a "cloud" is subject to interception and interpretation by the "postmaster" known as the NSA (and others).

My avatar moves.

koNko

Was. I can tell you they are not real happy

Could be this:

How Much Will PRISM Cost the U.S. Cloud Computing Industry? (www2.itif.org)

And this:

THE COST OF PRISM WILL BE LARGER THAN ITIF PROJECTS

koNko

They are late to the part on that

Microsoft and SGI have been building containerized data centers for years. SGI even has solar powered ones.

And it's not really certain what, exactly that thingy is, some people think it will be a Google Glass store. That would be pretty funny, great publicity stunt.

Thomas Twinnings

I don't quite understand

If the NSA has access to internet traffic though the "front door", with PRISM, why do they need a "back door" with MUSCULAR? What do they get with one that they do not get with the other?

An illusion can never be destroyed directly... SK.

Yoshimi

Redundancy

Redundancy

It's an industry standard

Deep Harm

And, surely, that was the intent

of releasing documents a few at a time. Give officials an opportunity to explain. When they lie, provide the damning evidence. Wait for officials to respond to that, and follow up with more damning evidence.

Even if the government does nothing to cut back surveillance, Snowden's disclosures have altered the way Americans view their government.

lotlizard

There's always been people who argue that

… states / governments / countries should not be judged by the same moral standards as apply to individuals.

Basically, the idea seems to boil down to a notion that countries who aren't willing to act like murderous paranoid psychopaths won't survive, or something.

The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo - The One is Minori Urakawa

Deep Harm

The agency issued a nondenial denial

White House officials and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, declined to confirm, deny or explain why the agency infiltrates Google and Yahoo networks overseas, the Post reported. http://www.latimes.com/...

That's not a non-denial denial

Sandino

That's a 'no comment'. A non-denial-denial is a denial of something that was not the question:

The DNI denied that the NSA has agents reading American's google searches in real time.

NSA collects millions of e-mail address books globally

The Washington Post

During a single day last year, the NSA's Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.

Each day, the presentation said, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts.

The collection depends on secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct traffic along the Internet's main data routes.

[Nov 05, 2013] The Morning Download: Google's Schmidt Ramps Up Pressure to Rein in Eavesdropping By Steve Rosenbush

November 4, 2013 | blogs.wsj.com

Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has slammed the Obama administration and the NSA in a way that could recast the debate over IT surveillance. His withering critique moves the center of the debate and ramps up the pressure to rein in eavesdropping. And no wonder–the extent of government snooping undermines the trust that customers place in Internet companies, and threatens GOOG -0.10% business model and that of all U.S.-based cloud providers.

He bristled at reports that the U.S. government allegedly spied on the company's data centers. "It's really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that's true. The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people's privacy, it's not OK," Mr. Schmidt told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. "The Snowden revelations have assisted us in understanding that it's perfectly possible that there are more revelations to come."

Mr. Schmidt said Google had registered complaints with the NSA, as well as President Barack Obama and members of Congress. Separately, Mr. Schmidt said Google is in no hurry to expand in China, given the extent of censorship there. "China's censorship regime has gotten significantly worse since we left so something would have to change before we come back," he said.

NSA Chief wrote:

And despite Schmidt's tantrums, the surveillance will continue.

Get used to the Brave New World Order. No one has any expectation of privacy. Just ask the SCOTUS.

Ian Michael Gumby wrote:

"Good morning. Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has slammed the Obama administration and the NSA in a way that could recast the debate over IT surveillance. His withering critique moves the center of the debate and ramps up the pressure to rein in eavesdropping. And no wonder–the extent of government snooping undermines the trust that customers place in Internet companies, and threatens Google'sGOOG -0.24% business model and that of all U.S.-based cloud providers."

Translation… Schmidt to Obama… Shh! You're shining a flashlight on our business model and when the shills catch on, we're going to face more legal scrutiny.

[Nov 04, 2013] Google vs NSA

Oct 31, 2013 | www.androidpit.com

Amy R

K9 email cleint has a very useful encryption add-on which can encrypt down to the actual email account source itself. I'll be honest, I have it but don't use it but when I use it, it works. There are paid encrypted and privacy email services (Reagancom and others) but like Kris said earlier, they often get shut down for not weakening encryption or refusing to hand over data all together. Kris is right, this has happened to me with the last email service I was using.

For web I use Firefox with DuckDuckGo search (add-on) as default. As far as HTTP vs. SSL and VPN web service goes- Don't bother, they have all been cracked. Along with Firefox with DDG as default, I use security add-ons which include: Ghostery in conjunction with Self-Destructing Cookies (Ghostery for ALL trackers, web beacons, analytics, etc & Self-Destructing Cookies for everything else) when set up that way they work remarkably well. Your always best off to have your cookie preferences set to allow NO third party cookies. For flash cookies, unless it is absolutely necessary for the site I'm on, I usually go to flash player and turn flash cookie function off.

These are the easiest and most common ways your information gets collected then handed over. I'm a bit of a paranoid freak but only because I been through this first hand. Your concern really shouldn't be about the NSA but rather the integrity of the providers and services you use. Google uses an UNBELIEVABLE amount of cookies and trackers for data collecting. Not all services are that way.....................

Mato Snek

Well, it is fine to have that options for encrypting data and these technical stuff. And I in a way also understand the struggle of authorities and institutions such a NSA. But what fascinates me most is the feeling of ignorance or lethargy of the most users (which I know, I don´t want to generalize).

In other words, my feeling is that most of the people just don´t care. I don´t mean that everybody has to be some kind of "paranoid freak" (no offense Amy :) ), but at least some kind of basic knowledge or interest should be expected...

[Nov 01,2013] Furious Tech Giants Fight Back Against NSA Surveillance By Justin Maiman

By Justin Maiman | Daily Ticker7 hours ago

It's a million dollar tech headache...caused by the U.S. government.

The New York Times today writes about how companies like Google (GOOG) are spending millions to beef up encryption of their own internal data. Why? To keep the National Security Agency (NSA) from hacking "their systems without their knowledge or cooperation." Those first reports about NSA spying surfaced last June but the fallout continues.

Related: Did Obama Just Destroy the Internet?

And The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task points out the irony. "This is the government essentially circumventing whatever agreements they had with these companies and finding a loophole. And you could argue that they've done these companies a favor by saying you guys are vulnerable here... the folks at Google have come out publicly and said 'we are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone.'"

And that leads us to the paradox of all this private information collection. Tech companies like Google, Facebook (FB) and Yahoo (YHOO) -- our parent company -- are now working harder than ever to protect their data from hackers and the government so they can make money off that same data to sell personalized ads.

The New York Times details some of the new efforts by big tech:

More than anything, tech company executives are mad. Here's Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talking to TechCrunch in September:

"The government blew it," he said. "The government's comment was, 'Oh, don't worry, basically we're not spying on any Americans.' Right, and it's like, 'Oh, wonderful, yeah, it's like that's really helpful to companies that are really trying to serve people around the world and really going to inspire confidence in American Internet companies.' "

The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget points out: "If nothing else, [Edward] Snowden has succeeded in just completely embarrassing the United States government."

Has Google Crossed Over Into True Evil

TechNewsWorld

What is clear over time is that while people often intend to do good, the concept of the end justifying the means can work into any organization. Google is the living example of a firm that seems to have solidly crossed the line. Its chairman was on Apple's board while Steve Jobs was dying, and while Jobs was also mentoring Google's founders, they decided to move from search and create products that competed with Apple. This upset Jobs so much he pledged all of Apple's resources to kill Android. To me, that is evil. To attack someone who has put you in a position of trust and used his own time to help you has to be evil. It doesn't matter that Jobs wasn't exactly and angel himself.

But taking kids out of college and destroying them, that is something that just sits in the back of your head and festers. Apparently Google is not alone in this, though many of the other companies outsource these duties to folks in places like India. Hey, out of sight out of mind, and at least they aren't doing it to Americans, right? Personally I don't care where it is done; this practice of destroying people should be regulated so that the people aren't destroyed.

So, do you agree this is evil? And what do you think should be done about it? The job is necessary, but shouldn't firms be required to assure that the people doing it aren't destroyed?

[Oct 31, 2013] RANT Let's Just Admit That Google Is Evil Now, Okay by Owen Thomas

May 31, 2012 | Business Insider

There's a lot of handwringing about Google's move to present paid listings-oh, heck, let's just call them advertisements-in places where it used to provide pure, unpaid search results.

It's understandable that people are making a big deal about this.

Google wasn't the first search engine, but it aimed to be the best. Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin believed that other search engines' practice of charging companies to be included in search listings was, well, evil.

That's where the whole "don't be evil" thing came from. Then again, Page and Brin weren't exactly big fans of advertising at the beginning. (They thought Google could make more money by licensing search technology to enterprises. Ha!). Nowadays, Page is in charge as CEO.

Brin, when he had an active executive role as co-president, was Google's moral compass. "Evil is what Sergey says is evil," then-CEO Eric Schmidt told Wired back in 2003, before the company had even gone public.

That compass is now off wearing augmented-reality glasses while riding in a self-driving car with the president of Turkey. (And good for him! Being a moral compass is exhausting!)

When Google went public, it warned shareholders very specifically about its aversion to evil. It specifically highlighted paid shopping listings as an example of something it would not do.

Nowadays, it's getting paid to sell airline tickets and hotel rooms and, yes, products in the space it used to reserve for unpaid search results.

It might make as much as $250 million a year from its recent changes-pocket change compared to its $40 billion a year in annual revenues.

Similarly evil: Google's attempt to put results from its Google+ social network in search. That wasn't evil so much as a waste of space. Google has largely replaced those results with its new "Knowledge Graph" summaries. But that move wasn't motivated by providing great search results: It was motivated by wanting to screw over Facebook and Twitter.

Evil!

And you know what? It may be healthy for Google to get over the whole "don't be evil" thing. It's not like anyone was buying it.

Even Googlers. Especially Googlers.

All the free-speech advocates have decamped to Twitter, where former Googler Dick Costolo now runs "the free-speech wing of the free-speech party."

The open-sourcerers have joined startups like Cloudera or HortonWorks.

The get-rich-quick crowd-sorry, people who want to make the world a more open and transparent place!-left long ago for Facebook.

Google's a nice place to work if you like the free food, predictable hours, and humongous gobs of data. But it's not like anyone's naive enough to think that joining Google these days is some kind of statement against evil, are they?

If you believe that, I've got a paid listing for a bridge to sell you.

NSA Spying Denials Prove That Google is Truly Evil Silicon ANGLE

Google has finally been exposed as the deceitful, two-faced entity it really is, and now it's desperately trying to spin the revelations of the NSA' s pervasive spying program to its advantage. The company that loves to portray itself as the defender of the internet, espousing its "Don't be Evil" propaganda whilst appearing to fight for internet freedoms, has been left scrambling to defend its so-called 'reputation' as a company worthy of our trust

Hot on the heels of reports from The Guardian and the Washington Post, Google was among the first of the nine tech firms involved to deny any knowledge of PRISM. In a carefully worded statement, it vehemently denied that it had given the government "direct access" to its servers, adding that it had "never even heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday".

But Google's denials are riddled with holes that have been ripped even further apart by the government's own admissions. Just hours after Google's statement was issued, senior intelligence officials and later, President Obama himself, admitted that PRISM was genuine. Could it be that the NSA was acting without Google's knowledge?

Highly unlikely, for a closer look at Google's statement shows us that in actual fact, it isn't denying anything at all. Rather, it looks as though Google is trying to conjure up a far more subtle PR strategy than simply denying any involvement whatsoever.

Google makes three key points in its statement that demand closer examination; firstly, that it didn't provide the NSA with "direct access" to its servers, that there is no "back door" for the NSA, and that user data is only provided to the government "in accordance with the law".

With regards to "direct access", in the IT world this generally implies that one is given full and unrestricted access to a company's servers. But in order to run something like PRISM, the NSA wouldn't actually need "direct access". Instead, some kind of 'indirect access' (such as Google transferring data to the NSA's servers when requested) would more than likely suffice. Therefore, when Google says that "direct access" was not provided, it isn't saying that it hasn't participated in the program.

We can apply a similar logic to Google's denial that the NSA has "back door" access to its servers. When we talk about 'back door' access, generally what we're describing is a way to access a server that is neither documented, nor known about by the owner of the server. Simply denying that a back door exists is not the same as denying that it put some kind of system in place through which the NSA could access its data.

But what kind of system be in place – one that doesn't constitute either direct access or a back door? Simple. Something like an API – the tool that company's use to give developers limited access to their servers – would suffice. Now, to be sure, Google has covered its tracks here too, denying that an API was used, but that doesn't rule out the possibility that it came up with some other, similar tool that the NSA could use.

As a further insurance policy, Google's statement also notes that it only provides "user data to governments in accordance with the law." But as outrageous as PRISM is, it is in all likelihood quite lawful, thanks to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 and the Protect America Act of 2007.

But what about Google's insistence that it had never heard of PRISM? Well, that one's simple enough – would the NSA actually tell Google what the program is called? Of course not, so its denial is certainly plausible.

What we can't be certain of is what Google is trying to achieve with its denials. It could be that it was hoping the government would also try to deny PRISM existed, as Google made its statement before any officials confirmed the program's existence. If so, it's been left looking rather foolish now. Alternatively, it may just be trying to come up with a clever way of protesting its innocence – maybe it will later try to portray itself as a victim, claiming that it never knew how much access the NSA really had, or which agency would be accessing the data, or what it would be used for.

Certainly, Google isn't the only one trying to spin PRISM's existence to its advantage. Just hours after the news broke, officials told Reuters how data collected from the program had helped law enforcement agencies to apprehend terrorists intent on blowing up the New York City subway. No doubt in the coming days and weeks we'll hear about other examples of how vital PRISM is to national security.

[Oct 31, 2013] Google's Broken Promise The End of Don't Be Evil by Mat Honan

Jan 12, 2012 | Gismodo

In a privacy policy shift, Google announced today that it will begin tracking users universally across all its services-Gmail, Search, YouTube and more-and sharing data on user activity across all of them. So much for the Google we signed up for.

The change was announced in a blog post today, and will go into effect March 1. After that, if you are signed into your Google Account to use any service at all, the company can use that information on other services as well. As Google puts it:

Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we'll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.

This has been long coming. Google's privacy policies have been shifting towards sharing data across services, and away from data compartmentalization for some time. It's been consistently de-anonymizing you, initially requiring real names with Plus, for example, and then tying your Plus account to your Gmail account. But this is an entirely new level of sharing. And given all of the negative feedback that it had with Google+ privacy issues, it's especially troubling that it would take actions that further erode users' privacy.

What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs. And if you have signed up for Google+, odds are the company even knows your real name, as it still places hurdles in front of using a pseudonym (although it no longer explicitly requires users to go by their real names).

All of that data history will now be explicitly cross-referenced. Although it refers to providing users a better experience (read: more highly tailored results), presumably it is so that Google can deliver more highly targeted ads. (There has, incidentally, never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Google's Ad Preferences.)

So why are we calling this evil? Because Google changed the rules that it defined itself. Google built its reputation, and its multi-billion dollar business, on the promise of its "don't be evil" philosophy. That's been largely interpreted as meaning that Google will always put its users first, an interpretation that Google has cultivated and encouraged. Google has built a very lucrative company on the reputation of user respect. It has made billions of dollars in that effort to get us all under its feel-good tent. And now it's pulling the stakes out, collapsing it. It gives you a few weeks to pull your data out, using its data-liberation service, but if you want to use Google services, you have to agree to these rules.

Google's philosophy speaks directly to making money without doing evil. And it is very explicit in calling out advertising in the section on "evil." But while it emphasizes that ads should be relevant, obvious, and "not flashy," what seems to have been forgotten is a respect for its users privacy, and established practices.

Among its privacy principles, number four notes:

People have different privacy concerns and needs. To best serve the full range of our users, Google strives to offer them meaningful and fine-grained choices over the use of their personal information. We believe personal information should not be held hostage and we are committed to building products that let users export their personal information to other services. We don't sell users' personal information.

This crosses that line. It eliminates that fine-grained control, and means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number come March 1st. If you use Google's services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. Yet a real concern for various privacy concerns would recognize that I might not want Google associating two pieces of personal information.

And much worse, it is an explicit reversal of its previous policies. As Google noted in 2009:

Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we're doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. It's completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users).

You'll know when we customize results because a "View customizations" link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we've customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization.

Google Just Made Bing the Best Search Engine

The changes come shortly after Google revamped its search results to include social results it called Search plus Your World. Although that move has drawn heavy criticism from all over the Web, at least it gives users the option to not participate.

wonderkrispU -> Mat Honan

So.... Google is going to take information from your online escapades (Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, G+, etc.) and is going to cross-reference them.

Not sell the information, or distribute it... But just use it to deliver a better user experience?

It doesn't sound all that bad, unless I'm missing something... Am I missing something? 1/24/12 7:04pm

Google's Flight Search do no evil, but kill everything in your path by Emory Kale

October 29, 2013 | TG Daily

What the heck is happening with Google?? They've put banner ads on the main search page even though they promised never to do so. They are supposed to provide us with the best search experience possible, and it looks like they are pretty much looking to kill Expedia and the rest of the travel sites out there. Pretty soon there won't be anyone out there to channel you deals, or price comparisons, or bookings options. Just Google. That's spooky.

You can try Flight Search yourself, which has a convenient tab for Hotel Search so, why I would want to spend anytime going through sites like Hipmunk or Travelocity beats me. It's clean, simple, and unless you like the n00b feel of those other sites, it serves its function real well.

It's hard to not to feel a little tinge of regret for having given Google so much power because, frankly, I really don't want one company being such a fierce sentinel at the gates of the Web. Between Google and Facebook you'd think that there was no other way to break through into the mainstream of online experiences.

And who gets the most love from these guys: the big brands who have the money to get the visibility. No wonder Reddit gets so much traffic. At least its anarchic flow of data and links has some merit in allowing the out of the ordinary and niche to rise to the surface, but even so, it's owned by a brand name company, too so, how long will it last?

Our web experiences are becoming increasingly more controlled. The joy of random search and time wasting on the Web has been replaced by targeting and profiling of your movements across sites.

I know, it's only Flight Search, but this is a continuous modification of services that essentially end up killing the very businesses that Google helped to grow.

You know who else did that? Microsoft. They had Windows and there was an ecosphere of applications and services around it. Slowly, much slower than Google, Microsoft started to integrate applications and services into its OS killing off its satellites of adoration. It was a necessity to justify every Windows upgrade and to improve the user experiences. Why pay for stuff when it was already going to be in the next version of Windows.

Google's doing kind of, exactly, the same thing. It's just taking stuff that people were doing through third parties and sucking it in for itself. Anyone who was arbitrating paid for clicks or impressions is being hurt by Google. Remember price comparison sites like PriceGrabber and Shopzilla? Waste of time now. Pretty soon, that's what's going to happen to the travel sites, too.

Collating data from suppliers and then just comparing the data in search results is not a value added proposition anymore. Airbnb, Uber, OpenTable, and even Spotify come to mind as services that can be easily absorbed by Google's search engine and offered nonchalantly.

If I was a new business trying to break through on the web, I'd be extremely concerned because, I have very few options to raise my visibility and get noticed. And frankly, this all lends credence to the notion that Google is reshaping itself for mobile because, frankly, Google's Flight Search is a damn site easier to access on a mobile device than any app from the other travel sites..

Shame on you Google By Pat Pilcher

Oct 18, 2013 | NZ Herald News

It is somewhat ironic that "Don't be evil" is the corporate mantra of Google and that this was coined by a Google exec as an unsubtle sideswipe at competitors, many of whom Google felt were exploiting their users.

I say this is ironic because Google are about to update their Terms of Service. This will result in users of the Google+ service having their profile name and photo plastered over adverts by the search giant as unpaid user endorsements.

If making these endorsements opt-out only and not providing even a smidgeon of the massive revenues Google are bound to be collecting for these endorsements isn't exploitative, I'd like to know what is.

So how does it work? In layperson speak, if you're a Google+ user and you've liked (or in Google parlance +1'd), followed, or even commented on a particular product or service, your Google+ connections could start to see your profile picture and Google+ name on Google adverts for that product or service.

Googles response to criticisms of this is likely to involve its PR team to putting some positive spin on the situation by stating that Google+ users can opt out.

I'd like to point out that it'd be far more ethical to provide an "opt-in" choice rather than making each and every google+ user a revenue generating product endorser by default. Additionally Googles also claim that an endorsement will only ever happen when you +1, comment, share or follow.

But hang on isn't that just weasel speak for doing just about anything on Google+?

Taking that into account then using Google+ could become a lot like tip-toeing through a minefield as users seek to being linked to avoid unsavoury endorsements.

Worse still, this move represents a new low for a company whose corporate catch-phrase is "don't be evil".

The spin has already started. According to the Google shared endorsements page "You're in control: Your content is only shared when you choose, and shared endorsements don't impact who can see your content or activity". The reality however is that Google+ users are only ever going to be in control if Google educates them about how to opt-out when an opt-choice in would have been far more ethical.

Then there's the not so small issue of money. If I endorse something and Google are creaming revenues off my endorsement, why don't I get a share? After all, isn't it my profile, mugshot and name that is being put out there?

Worryingly, there's also plenty of scope for endorsement related gaffes. Imagine if for instance you ended up following, sharing, +1ing or even commenting about something you don't actually like, or even find totally offensive.

Imagine if you followed, shared or even commented about a seemingly legitimate organisation, only to later find out it was actually a front financed by a neo Nazi movement advocating some pretty horrific stuff.

Imagine your horror as you found out that all your Google+ connections are now seeing your face and name associated with this stuff. Sadly this sort of thing is not only theoretically possible, but also probable.

So how worried should Google users be? Evil is a strong word, and equally important, a relative term in that there are varying degrees of being evil. In this day and age when governments can snoop on us with little to no oversight or accountability, worrying about being used as an advertising stooge by an online service looks a whole lot like very small beer indeed.

So at the end of the day, the million dollar question is this - is Google evil? It is arguable that they have made some effort to be up front about the looming changes to their terms and conditions, in that they've said what they will do, and soon they'll actually be doing it. Compared to the governments of New Zealand and other western democracies ..... that's arguably saint-like given the lack of integrity shown by our own law makers.

Before the howls of disapproval start and mail bags of hate mail begin to pile up, the good news is that google have given Google+ users the ability to do something about it.

Simply head to the 'Google shared endorsements page' and un-check the "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads" then click the blue save button.

If enough of us do this, Google may hopefully reconsider their actions. Here's hoping they choose not to be evil because this move really stinks.

What Is 'Evil' to Google - Ian Bogost - The Atlantic

As happens every time the search giant does something unseemly, Google's plan to turn its users into unwitting endorsers has inspired a new round of jabs at Google's famous slogan "Don't be evil." While Google has deemphasized the motto over time, it remains prominent in the company's corporate code of conduct, and, as a cornerstone of its 2004 Founder's IPO Letter, the motto has become an inescapable component of the company's legacy.

Famous though the slogan might be, its meaning has never been clear. In the 2004 IPO letter, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin clarify that Google will be "a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains." But what counts as "good things," and who constitutes "the world?" The slogan's significance has likely changed over time, but today it seems clear that we're misunderstanding what "evil" means to the company. For today's Google, evil isn't tied to malevolence or moral corruption, the customary senses of the term. Rather, it's better to understand Google's sense of evil as the disruption of its brand of (computational) progress.

Of course, Google doesn't say so in as many words; the company never defines "evil" directly. But when its executives talk about evil, they leave us clues. In a 2003 Wired profile of the company, Josh McHugh noted that while other large companies maintain lengthy corporate codes of conduct, Google's entire policy was summarized by just those three words, "Don't be evil." While there's some disagreement about its origins, Gmail creator Paul Buchheit reportedly conceived of the slogan, calling it "kind of funny" and "a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent."

In rejoinders of Google's dubious fidelity to the motto, most assume that the company was once virtuous and has either fallen from grace, or that it has been forced to compromise its values for the market. Even ten years ago, McHugh explained the situation as a side-effect of growth, explaining how difficult it was for Google to maintain a Tron-style "fight for the users" ideal in an enormously influential global information company. Others see it as a foil. In his book The Googlization of Everything, Siva Vaidhyanathan observes that the "Don't be evil" slogan "distracts us from carefully examining the effects of Google's presence and activity in our lives." True, but the slogan itself also counts as one such activity. Understanding what evil means to Google might be central to grasping its role in contemporary culture.

In an NPR interview earlier this year, former CEO and executive chairman Eric Schmidt justified the policy with a paradigmatic example:

So what happens is, I'm sitting in this meeting, and we're having this debate about an advertising product. And one of the engineers pounds his fists on the table and says, that's evil. And then the whole conversation stops, everyone goes into conniptions, and eventually we stopped the project. So it did work.

Schmidt admits that he thought it was "the stupidest rule ever" upon his arrival at the company, "because there's no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something." The contrast between the holy scripture and the engineer's fist is almost allegorical: in place of a broadly construed set of sociocultural values, Google relies instead on the edict of the engineer. That Schmidt doesn't bother describing the purportedly evil project in question only further emphasizes the matter: Whatever the product did or didn't do is irrelevant; all that matters is that Google passed judgement upon it. The system worked. But on whose behalf? Buchheit had explained that early Googlers felt that their competitors were exploiting users, but, exploitation is relative. Even back in the pre-IPO salad days of 2003, Schmidt explained "Don't be evil" via its founders' whim: "Evil is what Sergey says is evil."

All moral codes are grounded in something: a religious tradition, a philosophical doctrine, a cultural practice. Google's take on virtue doesn't reject such grounds so much as create a new one: the process of googlization itself. If anything, Google's motto seems to have largely succeeded at reframing "evil" to exclude all actions performed by Google.

There is a persistent idea that Internet technology companies embody an innocent populism. That the rational engineer is an earnest problem-solver, his fists striking tables instead of noses. But there's something treacherous in believing that virtue and vice can be negotiated in the engineering of an email client or the creation of a spreadsheet-that evil is just another problem to overcome, like usability or scalability.

Companies like Google actually embody a particular notion of progress rather than populism, one that involves advancing their technology solutions as universal ones. Evil is vicious because it inhibits this progress. If Google has made a contribution to moral philosophy, it amounts to a devout faith in its own ability to preside over virtue and vice through engineering. The unwitting result: We've not only outsourced our email hosting and office suite provisioning to Google, but also our information ethics. Practically speaking, isn't it just easier to let Google manage right and wrong?

We can already find signs of the spread of this lesser-known, engineer's sense of evil in Wiktionary, a crowdsourced dictionary run by the group that operates Wikipedia. There, the word "evil" is revealed to have acquired a domain specific meaning in computing:

evil (computing, programming, slang) undesirable; harmful; bad practice Global variables are evil; storing processing context in object member variables allows those objects to be reused in a much more flexible way.

Wiktionary's entry is but one specimen, but it is exemplary of Google's seemingly incongruous moral behavior. Understood in the programmer's sense, "evil" practices are just counter-indicated ones. Things that might seem reasonable in the moment but which will create headaches down the line. This kind of evil is internally-focused, selfish even: it's perpetrated against the actor rather than the public. Insofar as "bad practice" evils have victims, those victims are always members of the community of its perpetrators. Like the programmer's stock rejoinder "considered harmful", a phrase originally used to rejoin uses of GOTO in BASIC, a computational evil is one committed against engineering custom or convention.

This, perhaps, is the most helpful way to understand what Google means when it vows not to be evil. As both users of its products and citizens of the world it increasingly influences and alters, we would be wise to see Google's concern for evil as a pragmatic matter rather than an ethical one. It's a self-referential pragmatism, too: "Evils" like GOTO are evil insofar as they prevent a program from being effectively created and maintained, not because they make that program act wickedly. Under this understanding of evil, the virtuous actor is one who does not hinder future action.

It is a subtly different wickedness than the kind the political theorist Hannah Arendt famously called "the banality of evil." For Arendt, evildoers like Adolph Eichmann carry out heinous acts because they accept the premises of their enterprise without question. Banal evil is an evil of bureaucracy rather than fanaticism or sociopathy.

Admittedly, there's probably some bureaucratic banality at work in the Googleplex. No large organization can avoid it. And, contra Arendt, bureaucratic evil can still be individually sociopathic; just think of the stories we've recently read about NSA agents abusing the access to information granted by the government's surveillance system to spy on love interests.

But when you consider Google's bad behavior, the choices that strike many as low are neither banal evils nor sociopathic ones. They are conducted in plain sight, as official service offerings. They are presented through magnanimity rather than savagery. When those choices seem underhanded to us, at odds with the motto "Don't be evil," they do so not because of the policies they entail, such as using your activity on the web as unauthorized endorsements for paid advertising. Those acts are par for the course, alas. All companies, particularly public ones, exist to maximize their own benefit. Google never claimed otherwise; even in 2004 "Don't be evil" mostly clarified that the company wouldn't sprint to short-term gains.

Rather, our discomfort is an expression of the dissonance between ours and Google's understandings of evil. Google has managed to pass off the pragmatic pursuit of its own ends as if it were the general avoidance of wickedness. It has invested those ends with virtue, and it has publicized the fact that anything good for Google is also good for society. This is a brazen move, and it's no wonder it takes us by surprise.

The dissonance arises from our failure to understand "evil" as a colloquialism rather than a moral harm. An evil is just a thing that will cause you trouble later on-an engineering impediment. These practical evils are also private ones. Google doesn't make immoral choices because moral choices are just choices made by Google. This conclusion is already anticipated in the 2004 IPO document, which glosses evil as the failure to do "good things." At least we're used to hearing "good" as an ambiguous term that can refer to capacity and validity as much as-and more often than-virtue.

Products and infrastructures eventually degrade, but ideas linger. This verbal frame shift might turn out to be one of Google's lasting legacies. Google Evil, you might call it: evil as counter-pragmatism, and as an official public policy. As a replacement for a moral compass.

This is what makes the whole matter seem so insidious: It's not that Google has announced its intention not to be vicious and failed to meet the bar. Nor is Google, Arendt-style, just manning its station, doing what's expected. No, through its motto Google has effectively redefined evil as a matter of unserviceability in general, and unserviceability among corporatized information services in particular. As for virtue, it's a non-issue: Google's acts are by their very nature righteous, a consequence of Google having done them. The company doesn't need to exercise any moral judgement other than whatever it will have done. The biggest risk-the greatest evil-lies in failing to engineer an effective implementation of its own vision. Don't be evil is the Silicon Valley version of Be true to yourself. It is both tautology and narcissism.

In specific matters like using your name and likeness to surreptitiously improve the company's advertising services, you can take comfort in the fact that Google has considered the matter carefully and adopted a solution on your behalf. Google already knows what's best for you more than you know anyway-it's got all your data to tell it so. And how do you thank Google for this service? By complaining about it like an ingrate, unable to see the bigger picture, even though a multitude of engineers have struck fists against tables in Mountain View to deliver desires so intimate that you can't even recognize them.

As deviant as this logic might seem, perhaps we should thank Google for being so frank about it. At least now we can ponder this strange new evil, roll it around in our heads rather than just Googling for its meaning. And after all, Google's logic is no different from that of other technology companies banging the techo-libertarian drum of freedom and progress through leveraged, privatized Internet services. The Internet industry is committed only to itself, to the belief that its principles should apply to everyone. "Don't be evil" is just another way of saying so.

The Google Question of Evil by Michael Schulson

October 21, 2013

Google's slogan, famously, is "Don't be evil." Cute, right? Except when Google starts, for example, to intergrate your name and picture into advertisements without permission, and then things get uncomfortable. After all, that certainly feels creepy, dishonest, and socially harmful-even, perhaps, a bit evil.

Over at the Atlantic last week, Ian Bogost asked the important, obvious questions: what the hell does Google mean by evil? And how will Googlers know when Google has overstepped Google's Google-imposed boundaries?

Silicon Valley is not known for excessive concern about moral dilemmas (Bogost, a writer and video game designer, lives in the South, where moral angst is de rigueur). Still, Google has tried to answer these Big Questions. In a passage that will be illuminating for the religiously-inclined, Bogost discusses how Google chairman Eric Schmidt grapples with the problem of evil:

In an NPR interview earlier this year…Schmidt admits that he thought it was "the stupidest rule ever" upon his arrival at the company, "because there's no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something." The contrast between the holy scripture and the engineer's fist is almost allegorical: in place of a broadly construed set of sociocultural values, Google relies instead on the edict of the engineer….Even back in the pre-IPO salad days of 2003, Schmidt explained "Don't be evil" via its founders' whim: "Evil is what Sergey says is evil."

I'm no philosopher, but I'm pretty sure there are books about evil other than the Bible. And I'm not a right-wing religious pundit, but I'm also pretty sure that Google has finally confirmed the religious right's worst fears about secularization: that, in the absence of some guiding moral authority, we'll all slide into a self-imposed set of moral regulations that will gradually draw us into a morass of oppression and debauchery. Google may not be the Whore of Babylon, but Schmidt isn't exactly inspiring confidence in its capacities for moral self-policing.

Still, it's worth asking: what could the Bible say about topics such as user privacy? Sure, the Book of Job might help us understand the relationship between incomprehensibly huge authorities and the individuals who must engage with them. And Leviticus might remind us that, sometimes, you just have to ban things. But, with all due respect to Ecclesiastes, digital technology is something new under the sun. Laws about stealing, and lying, and loving one's neighbor aren't so easy to apply to issues of global connectedness and digital privacy.

Back in June, writing about the NSA surveillance scandal, Daniel Schultz pointed out in Christian Century that:

there has been minimal reaction by religious groups. A quick survey of eight denominations found that only one-the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-had a statement on government surveillance, dating from 2006. [A subsequent correction found one more statement, from the United Methodist Church].

Schultz wasn't especially surprised. These are new, slippery issues. But he was concerned, understandably, by the propsect of religious groups being unequipped to respond, in any substantive way, to an issue of obvious moral import.

I'm not saying that Google should add some priests to its board and start requiring employees to read the Sermon on the Mount. Nor am I saying that you need God to be moral. But Bogost is right: the moral "edict of the [Google] engineer" may not be enough regulation for what is, arguably, the world's most influential corporation. Google's slogan does a service, in that it reminds us that digital technology is not neutral-that is has the capacity to become morally charged. To this, let's hope that Google doesn't add a corollary lesson: that moral self-policing, without something or someone to keep you accountable, will always become corrupt.

[Oct 31, 2013] Who's more evil – Facebook or Google? by Holly Baxter

October 25, 2013 | The Guardian

Who is most evil on the internet? If we're to believe the latest coverage surrounding Facebook, then we'd probably have to say Mark Zuckerberg and associates, who have decided that graphic video footage of beheadings on the social network are AOK with them, so long as they come with content warnings. Bet you're missing that wanton youthful abandon of Myspace now.

Facebook's explanation for allowing executions galore on your timeline seems to be that the site has morphed over the years from mere social network into noble protector of freedom of information, no matter how disturbing the content. That's right: it's basically WikiLeaks, but with a constant stream of updates about what your old school frenemies' babies weigh. Get rid of all those boundary-pushing, controversial beheadings, and it's a slippery slope to an endlessly banal stream of boring people who spend hours carefully constructing online facades in order to convince "friends" they don't even know in real life that they go to better parties than them. Oh wait.

If you think that it's only Facebook fiddling with the parameters of morality in today's cyberworld, then you might be interested to know that Google is evil too. For those who know Google's motto, "Don't be evil", and have taken it at face value, this could come as something of a surprise. But for those of you who, like me, have a Gmail account and feel ethically torn about it but way too lazy to delete, it might not be such a shocker.

Gmail has been accused of "automatically scanning" the private contents of emails to and from your e-buddies for a while now, and using the information to tailor the advertisements it places in the corners of your screen. From 11 November, it will be widening its remit and taking "names, photos and reviews" from connected sites like YouTube to use in marketing. In other words, don't be surprised if your face and words start appearing in the online adverts that presently irritate you on a daily basis.

What all of this essentially means is that by signing up to a service run by Google, you are no longer just part of the system: you are the system. You are the advertised-to and the advertisement, the customer and the marketer, the instrument of your own drowning in commercial fodder.

But is that evil? In a recent Atlantic article titled What is "evil" to Google?, Ian Bogost argued that Google's wrongs were "evil insofar as they prevent a program from being effectively created and maintained, not because they make that program run wickedly". The company's position on not being evil essentially means a commitment to technological progression, not a commitment to morality (Bogost also points out that Wiktionary has already redefined evil in the case of computing/programming as something that is "undesirable; harmful; bad practice", far removed from what most of us might understand "evil" to mean.) Perhaps, then, not evil at all.

But if turning a blind eye is more your kind of evil, then we shouldn't let accusations levied against Ask.fm this year pass us by. The site, whose audience is mainly teenagers, was linked with the suicides of a number of users last year after they apparently suffered a campaign of vicious cyberbullying facilitated by its anonymous questioning set-up. Ask.fm's failure to monitor and protect its young users was seen at the time as the ultimate online evil: developers had built a platform that could be easily used for harassment, and then failed to take responsibility for creating such a platform seriously. It eventually changed its safety policy, but anonymous questions remain, with a company disclaimer that it "strongly encourages" users to turn the option off.

We saw the same problem with Twitter, where a particular fever pitch of vilification directed at Caroline Criado-Perez drew attention to a situation that had been going on for a long time. Twitter eventually bowed to public pressure and introduced a report abuse button for individual tweets in August, but not before arguing long and hard for its right not to do so based upon the practicalities of sifting through so much material. It wasn't the most sympathetic argument in the world: our lucrative website makes it so easy for people to abuse each other that the volume of reported material after the introduction of a "report abuse" button would make its creation horrendously inconvenient. So why not keep things the way they are?

Unsurprisingly, it didn't fly. It suffered the consequences of its own tweetstorm.

With friends like these in the cybersphere, it's hard to believe that any of us need enemies. And with your data now standing as the most valuable asset you have, there is cause to worry about exactly how evil your email account is versus your networking outlet. You might not see a beheading on Google+, but your music taste may well be gathered, analysed and sold as you type. You might applaud Twitter's new position on abuse, but be less enamoured with the idea of someone policing what you write.

Ultimately, the worldwide web is a scary playground populated with a lot of powerful bullies. The only way to navigate it safely is to scrutinise terms and conditions, monitor your privacy policies and, if in any doubt, opt out. It's a time-consuming inconvenience they're hoping you won't undergo, but it's worth it. In other words, it's a necessary evil.

Dunnyboy

October 25, 2013

It's a funny old thing. Up until very recently I had been the archetypal "I've got nothing to hide, so I don't care if the government reads my emails" kind of guy, but it is really starting to piss me off now. As a result, over the past couple of weeks I've written three letters to friends - real letters, fountain pen and paper letters - and I hadn't written a letter for about a decade. From now on I'm only going to use IM and email for business. Personal stuff is going to go in a letter.

MattVauxhall -> Dunnyboy

Its not that these brands are "Evil" but more that we seem to be in the middle of a giant experiment where all previous norms of privacy have been thrown away in a rush to a brave new world

We need to put the onus of any damage from this back on the companies...it would fix things up quite quickly

LesterJones -> Dunnyboy

...and yet if you sent 30 a day and stuffed them full of photos of yourself and your lunch with accompanying short messages about your success and general happiness people would think your absolutely insane...

...which is strange considering that is all Facebook does...

permafail

Gmail has been accused of "automatically scanning" the private contents of emails to and from your e-buddies for a while now, and using the information to tailor the advertisements it places in the corners of your screen

I don't get adverts on my gmail. Am I doing something wrong, or does it just take installing adblock to cut them out?

TheTrueGeek permafail

I agree. I don't see any adverts when browsing the web. AdBlock is excellent. It tidies up the Guardian site nicely too!

I wont stop the content of emails etc. being trawled to generate ads that might appear elsewhere, and seen by others though.

NB. Ghostery is another plug-in I recommend people use! (to stop/limit your internet movements being tracked)

Zakelius

I recently closed my facebook account and feel great about it. I do have a gmail account, but I only use it for instances where I might get spam and would rather not use my personal email address. So far I'm happy about it but in the long run I'd rather not use any of their products, including youtube (which is owned by Google) which makes things a bit more difficult.

peopleisstupid Zakelius

I don't have any social media accounts. I use Goggles and Tubes because it's helpful, but haven't signed up.

Occasionally you'll find yourself the odd one out in a conversation down the pub, or not quite getting the point of a particular article/story/news item, but it really doesn't make a blind bit of difference.

This isn't a 'look-how-retro-cool' I am comment, it's just a confirmation that you really don't need these things to live a normal, happy, engaged life

Toyin

If people have to make a conscious choice to use Facebook or Google is it right to define the services we subscribe to as evil? Do we not have any role in the decisions we make?

If these businesses offered a life giving or compulsory commodity like water then yes, but they don't. They offer efficient access to on-line information and social networks. Yes their long term ambitions are ethically dubious but to call these networks "a necessary evil" is a stretch, they are more a morally compromised convenience.

James Hudson -> Toyin

Excellent remark, It seems that more and more in our society people are looking to shirk their personal responsibilities and seek someone else to make the moral decisions for them. If Google or Facebook make you uncomfortable, don't use them. They'll soon change when the traffic drops.

Toyin -> James Hudson

They'll soon change when the traffic drops.

Exactly. It's important that users remember that the traffic they generate for these companies through donating their IP for free is utilised to generate advertising revenue. If you can get something useful out of the deal then great, if not then log off.

dogfondler

Social media moguls are wankers, the spooks are bastards. It's an important distinction.

JohnBroggio dogfondler

Absolutely. And as both FB & G hand over our data to the NSA, GCHQ et al, they both fall a long way short of "don't be evil" (I can't speak for their other "talents").

Apresmoiledeluge

It's like hating petrol or fast food.

We use them all the time. Petrol is destroying the climate. Fast food is causing obesity. But we still drive cars and still eat fast food.

I think what we should be doing is looking at battlegrounds. In Facebook and Google the US empire has already one. They keep tabs on everyone.

But Wikipedia is a battle.

NeverMindTheBollocks

Neither.

Sorry to ruin the fun here of "who can we call evil today?".

Reasonable and informed Guardian readers realise that the world is not as simplistic and black-and-white (or black-and-blacker) as portrayed here.

EllisWyatt NeverMindTheBollocks

Oh come on, where's the fun in that. If we believed that actually the world was a complex place of people bumping into each other, acting in a haphazard way and generally being fallible then 90% of CiF contributions would die up overnight!

Where we be without politicians, tories, immigrants, greens, Osborne, bankers, oil companies, lefties, labour, tony blair etc for all the troubles in our lives?

PollitoIngles

[Google/Facebook] Pick your playmates carefully in the internet playground

They're the big kids on the block, controlled by the grand-daddy bully of them all. Choice is: there is no choice.

Tacgnol

Now that Google has decided that I need to 'add an account' to an inescapable front page to be remembered every time I just want to check my fucking e-mail, I'm going with Google. They've also linked (my previously deleted Google Plus) account to Youtube and every time I click to disconnect the two so I can delete Google Plus, it takes me to a page where the disconnect link simply doesn't exist -- and yes, I've taken it to the Google forums, where people were as baffled as I was.

They've made some awful, intrusive changes lately and as soon as I find a good alternative to Gmail, I'm jumping ship. (Any recommendations welcome, by the way.)

BawbagMcWimoweh

Who's more evil – Facebook or Google?

There are lots of different search engines that can be used. Google is simply the most well-known.

Facebook exploits people's own sense of vanity and desire to invade other people's privacy. There is no requirement to plaster your life all over the internet.

WIRED Wired Business by Rory O'Connor

It's bad enough when you run a search company in an increasingly social world. It's worse when anti-trust regulators say you have unfairly and illegally used your dominance in search to promote your own products over those of competitors. Now Google executives, who like to boast of their company's informal motto, "Don't Be Evil," also stand accused of being just that - and rightly so. What other interpretation is possible in light of persistent allegations that the internet titan deliberately engaged in "the s ?"

Google's history of anti-social social networks and anti-trust trust relations that deceptively breach online consumer privacy and trust has already begun to threaten its longstanding web hegemony and its vaunted brand. Now the company's repeatedly defensive and dishonest responses to charges that its specially equipped Street View cars surreptitiously collected private internet communications - including emails, photographs, passwords, chat messages, and postings on websites and social networks - could signal a tipping point.

With the phenomenally successful and profitable internet giant being newly scrutinized by consumers, competitors, regulators and elected officials alike, all concerned about basic issues of privacy, trust and anti-trust, the question must be raised: Is Google facing an existential threat? With government regulators nipping at its heels on both sides of the Atlantic, Facebook leading in the race for attention and prestige, and "social" beginning to replace "search" as a focus of online activity, the company that revolutionized our means of finding information just a decade ago now finds itself increasingly under siege and in danger of fading from prominence to become, in essence, the "next Microsoft."

Who gave these new media companies the right to invade our privacy without our permission or knowledge and then secretly store the data until they can figure out how to profit from it in the future?

That possibility came into sharper focus recently when fed-up European regulators gave the company an ultimatum - change your lying ways about your anticompetitive practices in search, online advertising and smartphone software or face the consequences. Regulators in the United States are poised to follow suit.

Meanwhile, the secret Street View data collection has already led to inquiries in at least a dozen countries. Yet Google still refuses to 'fess up and supply an adequate explanation of what it was up to, why the data was collected and who knew about it. To date, no domestic regulator has even seen the information that Google gathered from American citizens. Instead, Google chose first to deny everything, then blamed a programming mistake involving experimental software, claimed that no use of the illicit data in Google products was foreseen, and said that a single "rogue" programmer was responsible for the whole imbroglio. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined instead that the data collection was no accident, that supervisors knew all about it and that Google in fact "intended to collect, store and review" the data "for possible use in other Google products," and fined Google for obstructing the investigation.

Google's response to the FCC was not unusual. At every step of the way, the company has delayed, denied and obstructed investigations into its data collection. It has consistently resisted providing information to both European and American regulators and made them wait months for it - as well as for answers as to why it was collected. Company executives even had the temerity to tell regulators they could not show them the collected data, because to do so might be breaking privacy and wiretapping laws! As Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, told The New York Times while citing Google's stated mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," it seems "Google's practice is to prevent others from doing the same thing."

Given its record, and with so little accountability, how can any of us trust Google - or other Internet giants like Facebook, which now faces its own privacy and anti-trust concerns? Who gave these new media companies the right to invade our privacy without our permission or knowledge and then secretly store the data until they can figure out how to profit from it in the future?

No one, obviously … and as a direct result of their arrogant behavior, both Google and Facebook now face the possibility of eventual showdowns with regulators, the biggest to hit Silicon Valley since the US government went after Microsoft more than a decade ago. Their constant privacy controversies have also caused politicians to begin taking notice. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, for example, who is in charge of a subcommittee on privacy, noted in a recent speech that companies such as Google and Facebook accumulated data on users because "it's their whole business model. And you are not their client; you are their product."

Small wonder that Google co-founder Larry Page is feeling "paranoid", as the Associated Press recently reported. Why? As I detail in my new book Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands and Killing Traditional Media, as the new "contextual web" takes the place of the data-driven web of the early 21st century, it will mean further bad news for Google - even though the company still sold $36.5 billion in advertising last year. Couple Google's paranoia about Facebook and the evident failure of its latest social network, Google Plus, with its problems about privacy, trust and anti-trust, and it's no surprise that executives are feeling paranoid.

After all, they are facing the very real prospect of waging a defensive war on many fronts - social, privacy, and trust - simultaneously. Despite its incredible reach, power and profit, it's a war that Google - the 21st century equivalent of the still-powerful but increasingly irrelevant Microsoft - may well be destined to lose, along with the trust its users have long extended to one of the world's most powerful brands.

[Oct 31, 2013] Is Google Evil by Adam L. Penenberg

Oct. 10, 2006 | Mother Jones

Google Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two former Stanford geeks who founded the company that has become synonymous with Internet searching, and you'll find more than a million entries each. But amid the inevitable dump of press clippings, corporate bios, and conference appearances, there's very little about Page's and Brin's personal lives; it's as if the pair had known all along that Google would change the way we acquire information, and had carefully insulated their lives-putting their homes under other people's names, choosing unlisted numbers, abstaining from posting anything personal on web pages.

That obsession with privacy may explain Google's puzzling reaction last year, when Elinor Mills, a reporter with the tech news service Cnet, ran a search on Google CEO Eric Schmidt and published the results: Schmidt lived with his wife in Atherton, California, was worth about $1.5 billion, had dumped about $140 million in Google shares that year, was an amateur pilot, and had been to the Burning Man festival. Google threw a fit, claimed that the information was a security threat, and announced it was blacklisting cnet's reporters for a year. (The company eventually backed down.) It was a peculiar response, especially given that the information Mills published was far less intimate than the details easily found online on every one of us. But then, this is something of a pattern with Google: When it comes to information, it knows what's best.

From the start, Google's informal motto has been "Don't Be Evil," and the company earned cred early on by going toe-to-toe with Microsoft over desktop software and other issues. But make no mistake. Faced with doing the right thing or doing what is in its best interests, Google has almost always chosen expediency. In 2002, it removed links to an anti-Scientology site after the Church of Scientology claimed copyright infringement. Scores of website operators have complained that Google pulls ads if it discovers words on a page that it apparently has flagged, although it will not say what those words are. In September, Google handed over the records of some users of its social-networking service, Orkut, to the Brazilian government, which was investigating alleged racist, homophobic, and pornographic content.

Google's stated mission may be to provide "unbiased, accurate, and free access to information," but that didn't stop it from censoring its Chinese search engine to gain access to a lucrative market (prompting Bill Gates to crack that perhaps the motto should be "Do Less Evil"). Now that the company is publicly traded, it has a legal responsibility to its shareholders and bottom line that overrides any higher calling.

So the question is not whether Google will always do the right thing-it hasn't, and it won't. It's whether Google, with its insatiable thirst for your personal data, has become the greatest threat to privacy ever known, a vast informational honey pot that attracts hackers, crackers, online thieves, and-perhaps most worrisome of all-a government intent on finding convenient ways to spy on its own citizenry.

It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to worry about such a threat. "I always thought it was fertile ground for the government to snoop," CEO Schmidt told a search engine conference in San Jose, California, in August. While Google earned praise from civil libertarians earlier this year when it resisted a Justice Department subpoena for millions of search queries in connection with a child pornography case, don't expect it will stand up to the government every time: On its website, Google asserts that it "does comply with valid legal process, such as search warrants, court orders, or subpoenas seeking personal information."

What's at stake? Over the years, Google has collected a staggering amount of data, and the company cheerfully admits that in nine years of operation, it has never knowingly erased a single search query. It's the biggest data pack rat west of the NSA, and for good reason: 99 percent of its revenue comes from selling ads that are specifically targeted to a user's interests. "Google's entire value proposition is to figure out what people want," says Eric Goldman, a professor at Silicon Valley's Santa Clara School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute. "But to read our minds, they need to know a lot about us."

Every search engine gathers information about its users-primarily by sending us "cookies," or text files that track our online movements. Most cookies expire within a few months or years. Google's, though, don't expire until 2038. Until then, when you use the company's search engine or visit any of myriad affiliated sites, it will record what you search for and when, which links you click on, which ads you access. Google's cookies can't identify you by name, but they log your computer's IP address; by way of metaphor, Google doesn't have your driver's license number, but it knows the license plate number of the car you are driving. And search queries are windows into our souls, as 658,000 AOL users learned when their search profiles were mistakenly posted on the Internet: Would user 1997374 have searched for information on better erections or cunnilingus if he'd known that AOL was recording every keystroke? Would user 22155378 have keyed in "marijuana detox" over and over knowing someone could play it all back for the world to see? If you've ever been seized by a morbid curiosity after a night of hard drinking, a search engine knows-and chances are it's Google, which owns roughly half of the entire search market and processes more than 3 billion queries a month.

And Google knows far more than that. If you are a Gmail user, Google stashes copies of every email you send and receive. If you use any of its other products-Google Maps, Froogle, Google Book Search, Google Earth, Google Scholar, Talk, Images, Video, and News-it will keep track of which directions you seek, which products you shop for, which phrases you research in a book, which satellite photos and news stories you view, and on and on. Served up à la carte, this is probably no big deal. Many websites stow snippets of your data. The problem is that there's nothing to prevent Google from combining all of this information to create detailed dossiers on its customers, something the company admits is possible in principle. Soon Google may even be able to keep track of users in the real world: Its latest move is into free wifi, which will require it to know your whereabouts (i.e., which router you are closest to).

Google insists that it uses individual data only to provide targeted advertising. But history shows that information seldom remains limited to the purpose for which it was collected. Accordingly, some privacy advocates suggest that Google and other search companies should stop hoarding user queries altogether: Internet searches, argues Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, are part of your protected personal space just like your physical home. In February, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to this effect, but Republicans have kept it stalled in committee. Google, which only recently retained a lobbying firm in Washington, is among the tech companies fighting the measure.

When I first contacted Google for this story, a company publicist insisted I provide a list of detailed questions, in writing; when I said that I had a problem with a source dictating the terms for an interview, he claimed that everyone who covers Google-including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal-submits advance questions. (A Times spokeswoman told me the paper sees no ethical problems with such a procedure, though individual reporters' decisions may vary; an editor in charge of editorial standards at the Journal said the same thing.) The Google flack assured me that this was so he could find the best person for me to talk to-more information for Google, so that Google could better serve me.

Eventually he agreed to put me in touch, sans scripted questions, with Nicole Wong, Google's associate corporate counsel. I asked her if the company had ever been subpoenaed for user records, and whether it had complied. She said yes, but wouldn't comment on how many times. Google's website says that as a matter of policy the company does "not publicly discuss the nature, number or specifics of law enforcement requests."

So can you trust Google only as far as you can trust the Bush administration? "I don't know," Wong replied. "I've never been asked that question before."

How Google Makes Its Money

For a company that for the longest time was touted to "not have a product," Google is doing plenty well, and is poised to bring us all into the new age of connectivity.

- Google made $33.3 billion last year

With 97% ($32.2 bil) coming from online ads

Making Google Ads more valuable than Panama (GDP)[3]

And the 31 poorest countries in the world combined

- 70% of this revenue is from adwords, which allows business to advertise by popular keywords

Most expensive keywords

1. Insurance: $54.31 per click

2. Mortgage:$47.12 per click

3. Attorney $47.07 per click

4. Loans:$44.28 per click

5. Credit $36.06 per click

6. Lawyer

7. Donate

8. Degree

9. hosting

10. Claim

11. Conference Call

12. Trading

13. Software

14. Recovery

15. Transfer

16. Gas/Electricity

17. Classes

18. Rehab

19. Treatment

20. Cord Blood

- And 30% is from adsense

which allows business to advertise on particular sites

Some of the most expensive ad placements

  1. CBS March Madness on Demand $70 cost per thousand views
  2. Hulu $35 cost per thousand views
  3. Aol homepage takeover $500,000-$700,000

Chances are, you'll click on a link at some point. Google wants you to stay online as long as possible.

Both Google and other acquisitions are furthering Google's cause.

Google

Google is the lab where future projects are developed. There, several ways in which to keep you online have been developed:

Driverless cars

300,000 miles have been logged in Google's driverless cars, which use sensors and Google map technology to keep you on the road

If you don't have to pay attention to the road, you can be online, for work, play, Google, etc.

Google Glass

A form of augmented reality glasses, allow you to be online all the time with an unobtrusive display within your upper visual field

The "web of things"

Involves embedding many ordinary devices with internet connectivity.

Televisions, thermostats, refrigerators

Google Fiber

Is busy hooking up Kansas City, Missouri, Provo, Utah, and Austin Texas, with lighting fast fiber optic internet access

Including: 1 terabyte of Google drive storage

and, 2 terabyte DVR service for subscribers

That can record up to 8 tv shows at once

Time Magazine has noted that Google does not want to enter the ISP business, but rather wants to shame existing ISPs into improving service so searches can be done more quickly

Plans for an elevator to space...

Because what would you do out there without Google maps?

Other acquisitions by Google Include:

Youtube

Purchased for a--then--astounding $1.65 billion in 2006

Youtube has proved to be plenty worth it

As it is now the third most popular site online, with billions of ads shown yearly

Motorola Mobility

Purchased in 2011 for $12.5 billion.

Motorola is one of 39 Android handset producers

Was bought primarily to "supercharge the Android ecosystem."

Other Acquisitions include

$676 mil for ITA software, a company merged into Google Flights

$450 mil for Wildfire Interactive, a social network marketing engine

$400 mil for AdMeld, an online advertising service

$1.3 bil for Waze, a socially driven mapping technology to merge with Google Maps

And $228 mil for slide.com, a social gaming site

With 83.18% of searches worldwide occurring on Google, and the right people thinking about how to funnel that for the collective, and profitable, good, Google's not going anywhere. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Sources

1. http://most-expensive.com/adword-keywords

2. http://www.wordstream.com/articles/most-expensive-keywords

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

4. http://www.cio.com/article/694854/Google_Future_Tech_10_Coolest_Google_R_D_Projects?page=11#slideshow

5. http://soshable.com/what-does-Google-own/

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Fiber

7. https://www.netmarketshare.com/search-engine-market-share.aspx?qprid=4&qpcustomd=0/

[Oct 31, 2013] Who's more evil – Facebook or Google? by Holly Baxter

October 25, 2013 | The Guardian

Who is most evil on the internet? If we're to believe the latest coverage surrounding Facebook, then we'd probably have to say Mark Zuckerberg and associates, who have decided that graphic video footage of beheadings on the social network are AOK with them, so long as they come with content warnings. Bet you're missing that wanton youthful abandon of Myspace now.

Facebook's explanation for allowing executions galore on your timeline seems to be that the site has morphed over the years from mere social network into noble protector of freedom of information, no matter how disturbing the content. That's right: it's basically WikiLeaks, but with a constant stream of updates about what your old school frenemies' babies weigh. Get rid of all those boundary-pushing, controversial beheadings, and it's a slippery slope to an endlessly banal stream of boring people who spend hours carefully constructing online facades in order to convince "friends" they don't even know in real life that they go to better parties than them. Oh wait.

If you think that it's only Facebook fiddling with the parameters of morality in today's cyberworld, then you might be interested to know that Google is evil too. For those who know Google's motto, "Don't be evil", and have taken it at face value, this could come as something of a surprise. But for those of you who, like me, have a Gmail account and feel ethically torn about it but way too lazy to delete, it might not be such a shocker.

Gmail has been accused of "automatically scanning" the private contents of emails to and from your e-buddies for a while now, and using the information to tailor the advertisements it places in the corners of your screen. From 11 November, it will be widening its remit and taking "names, photos and reviews" from connected sites like YouTube to use in marketing. In other words, don't be surprised if your face and words start appearing in the online adverts that presently irritate you on a daily basis.

What all of this essentially means is that by signing up to a service run by Google, you are no longer just part of the system: you are the system. You are the advertised-to and the advertisement, the customer and the marketer, the instrument of your own drowning in commercial fodder.

But is that evil? In a recent Atlantic article titled What is "evil" to Google?, Ian Bogost argued that Google's wrongs were "evil insofar as they prevent a program from being effectively created and maintained, not because they make that program run wickedly". The company's position on not being evil essentially means a commitment to technological progression, not a commitment to morality (Bogost also points out that Wiktionary has already redefined evil in the case of computing/programming as something that is "undesirable; harmful; bad practice", far removed from what most of us might understand "evil" to mean.) Perhaps, then, not evil at all.

But if turning a blind eye is more your kind of evil, then we shouldn't let accusations levied against Ask.fm this year pass us by. The site, whose audience is mainly teenagers, was linked with the suicides of a number of users last year after they apparently suffered a campaign of vicious cyberbullying facilitated by its anonymous questioning set-up. Ask.fm's failure to monitor and protect its young users was seen at the time as the ultimate online evil: developers had built a platform that could be easily used for harassment, and then failed to take responsibility for creating such a platform seriously. It eventually changed its safety policy, but anonymous questions remain, with a company disclaimer that it "strongly encourages" users to turn the option off.

We saw the same problem with Twitter, where a particular fever pitch of vilification directed at Caroline Criado-Perez drew attention to a situation that had been going on for a long time. Twitter eventually bowed to public pressure and introduced a report abuse button for individual tweets in August, but not before arguing long and hard for its right not to do so based upon the practicalities of sifting through so much material. It wasn't the most sympathetic argument in the world: our lucrative website makes it so easy for people to abuse each other that the volume of reported material after the introduction of a "report abuse" button would make its creation horrendously inconvenient. So why not keep things the way they are?

Unsurprisingly, it didn't fly. It suffered the consequences of its own tweetstorm.

With friends like these in the cybersphere, it's hard to believe that any of us need enemies. And with your data now standing as the most valuable asset you have, there is cause to worry about exactly how evil your email account is versus your networking outlet. You might not see a beheading on Google+, but your music taste may well be gathered, analysed and sold as you type. You might applaud Twitter's new position on abuse, but be less enamoured with the idea of someone policing what you write.

Ultimately, the worldwide web is a scary playground populated with a lot of powerful bullies. The only way to navigate it safely is to scrutinise terms and conditions, monitor your privacy policies and, if in any doubt, opt out. It's a time-consuming inconvenience they're hoping you won't undergo, but it's worth it. In other words, it's a necessary evil.

Dunnyboy

October 25, 2013

It's a funny old thing. Up until very recently I had been the archetypal "I've got nothing to hide, so I don't care if the government reads my emails" kind of guy, but it is really starting to piss me off now. As a result, over the past couple of weeks I've written three letters to friends - real letters, fountain pen and paper letters - and I hadn't written a letter for about a decade. From now on I'm only going to use IM and email for business. Personal stuff is going to go in a letter.

MattVauxhall -> Dunnyboy

Its not that these brands are "Evil" but more that we seem to be in the middle of a giant experiment where all previous norms of privacy have been thrown away in a rush to a brave new world

We need to put the onus of any damage from this back on the companies...it would fix things up quite quickly

LesterJones -> Dunnyboy

...and yet if you sent 30 a day and stuffed them full of photos of yourself and your lunch with accompanying short messages about your success and general happiness people would think your absolutely insane...

...which is strange considering that is all Facebook does...

permafail

Gmail has been accused of "automatically scanning" the private contents of emails to and from your e-buddies for a while now, and using the information to tailor the advertisements it places in the corners of your screen

I don't get adverts on my gmail. Am I doing something wrong, or does it just take installing adblock to cut them out?

TheTrueGeek permafail

I agree. I don't see any adverts when browsing the web. AdBlock is excellent. It tidies up the Guardian site nicely too!

I wont stop the content of emails etc. being trawled to generate ads that might appear elsewhere, and seen by others though.

NB. Ghostery is another plug-in I recommend people use! (to stop/limit your internet movements being tracked)

Zakelius

I recently closed my facebook account and feel great about it. I do have a gmail account, but I only use it for instances where I might get spam and would rather not use my personal email address. So far I'm happy about it but in the long run I'd rather not use any of their products, including youtube (which is owned by Google) which makes things a bit more difficult.

peopleisstupid Zakelius

I don't have any social media accounts. I use Goggles and Tubes because it's helpful, but haven't signed up.

Occasionally you'll find yourself the odd one out in a conversation down the pub, or not quite getting the point of a particular article/story/news item, but it really doesn't make a blind bit of difference.

This isn't a 'look-how-retro-cool' I am comment, it's just a confirmation that you really don't need these things to live a normal, happy, engaged life

Toyin

If people have to make a conscious choice to use Facebook or Google is it right to define the services we subscribe to as evil? Do we not have any role in the decisions we make?

If these businesses offered a life giving or compulsory commodity like water then yes, but they don't. They offer efficient access to on-line information and social networks. Yes their long term ambitions are ethically dubious but to call these networks "a necessary evil" is a stretch, they are more a morally compromised convenience.

James Hudson -> Toyin

Excellent remark, It seems that more and more in our society people are looking to shirk their personal responsibilities and seek someone else to make the moral decisions for them. If Google or Facebook make you uncomfortable, don't use them. They'll soon change when the traffic drops.

Toyin -> James Hudson

They'll soon change when the traffic drops.

Exactly. It's important that users remember that the traffic they generate for these companies through donating their IP for free is utilised to generate advertising revenue. If you can get something useful out of the deal then great, if not then log off.

dogfondler

Social media moguls are wankers, the spooks are bastards. It's an important distinction.

JohnBroggio dogfondler

Absolutely. And as both FB & G hand over our data to the NSA, GCHQ et al, they both fall a long way short of "don't be evil" (I can't speak for their other "talents").


Apresmoiledeluge

It's like hating petrol or fast food.

We use them all the time. Petrol is destroying the climate. Fast food is causing obesity. But we still drive cars and still eat fast food.

I think what we should be doing is looking at battlegrounds. In Facebook and Google the US empire has already one. They keep tabs on everyone.

But Wikipedia is a battle.

NeverMindTheBollocks

Neither.

Sorry to ruin the fun here of "who can we call evil today?".

Reasonable and informed Guardian readers realise that the world is not as simplistic and black-and-white (or black-and-blacker) as portrayed here.

EllisWyatt NeverMindTheBollocks

Oh come on, where's the fun in that. If we believed that actually the world was a complex place of people bumping into each other, acting in a haphazard way and generally being fallible then 90% of CiF contributions would die up overnight!

Where we be without politicians, tories, immigrants, greens, Osborne, bankers, oil companies, lefties, labour, tony blair etc for all the troubles in our lives?

PollitoIngles

[Google/Facebook] Pick your playmates carefully in the internet playground

They're the big kids on the block, controlled by the grand-daddy bully of them all. Choice is: there is no choice.

Tacgnol

Now that Google has decided that I need to 'add an account' to an inescapable front page to be remembered every time I just want to check my fucking e-mail, I'm going with Google. They've also linked (my previously deleted Google Plus) account to Youtube and every time I click to disconnect the two so I can delete Google Plus, it takes me to a page where the disconnect link simply doesn't exist -- and yes, I've taken it to the Google forums, where people were as baffled as I was.

They've made some awful, intrusive changes lately and as soon as I find a good alternative to Gmail, I'm jumping ship. (Any recommendations welcome, by the way.)

BawbagMcWimoweh

Who's more evil – Facebook or Google?

There are lots of different search engines that can be used. Google is simply the most well-known.

Facebook exploits people's own sense of vanity and desire to invade other people's privacy. There is no requirement to plaster your life all over the internet.

[Oct 23, 2013] How to Opt Out of Google's Plan to Use Your Name and Comments in Ads by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER

Updated on Oct. 15 in response to reader comments on their opt-out experience. | When Google announced last week that it would change its terms of service to allow it to show people's social networking activity - like names, photos, ratings, reviews and comments - in ads across more than two million Web sites, it strongly emphasized that users could easily opt out.

Yet for some Google users, the opt-out process was not as easy as Google made it sound.

"Unfortunately, Google has joined Facebook in making it as confusing as possible for people to 'opt out' or control how their personal info is used," Anna Varela, 47, a Web strategist at Georgia State University, wrote in an e-mail that echoed messages I received from other readers. She visited Google's page for opting out, she wrote, but "found myself unsure if I should tick the opt-out box because it reads like you're actually opting in."

The opt-out box, found at the Google Plus settings page for shared endorsements, does use the language of opting in: "Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads."

To clear things up: People who do not want their profile information and comments used in ads must uncheck the box next to that phrase. The box is, by default, checked for Google Plus users.

In comments on this post and elsewhere, many Google Plus members reported that when they visited the setting page, the box was unchecked. But a Google spokeswoman confirmed that it is checked by default, and said these users most likely opted out when they first joined Google Plus.

Users' original choices carried over and apply to Google's expanded use of personal information.

[Oct 20, 2013] Seeking Online Refuge From Spying Eyes By JENNA WORTHAM

NYTimes.com

Consider this scene in "The Circle," Dave Eggers's new novel that imagines a dystopian future dominated by an omnipotent social networking company: Mae, the young protagonist, tries to unplug from her hypernetworked life to go on a covert, solitary kayaking trip. But when she returns to shore, she is greeted by police officers who have been alerted to her excursion by several hidden cameras. She quickly realizes that very little in her life isn't recorded, tracked and analyzed.

It's a troubling image, one that some fear might not be limited to works of fiction. In fact, some elements of Mae's scenario have emerged recently in the news. There was the report that the National Security Agency can create sophisticated maps of some people's personal information and social connections. There were the recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings that will no longer allow users to hide their profiles from public searches. In addition, Google recently revealed that it was considering using anonymous identifiers to track browsing habits online, raising hackles among privacy advocates who have described it as "the new way they will identify you 24/7."

And, at the same time, drones are becoming commonplace - used by the government in counterterrorism efforts and by hobbyists - prompting discussions about the long-term impact on privacy.

These developments, among others, have spurred the creation of a handful of applications and services intended to give people respite and refuge from surveillance, both online and off. They have a simple and common goal: to create ways for people to use the Internet and to communicate online without surveillance.

Nadim Kobeissi, a security adviser in Montreal who works on an encrypted-message service called Cryptocat, said the security and hacker circles of which he is a part have long suspected that the government is listening in on online conversations and exchanges but "have never been able to prove it." He added: "It's been a worst-case-scenario prediction that all turned out to be true, to a worrying extent."

If nothing else, the N.S.A. leaks and disclosures have brought these issues front and center for many people, myself included, who are troubled by how much of our daily and online interaction is concentrated in and around a handful of companies that have funneled data to the N.S.A.

"It's sad that this is the proverbial kick in the butt that needs to bring awareness to this concept," said Harlo Holmes, who works for the Guardian Project, a group that is building several anti-surveillance and privacy applications.

Ms. Holmes says interest has been surging in the Guardian Project's services, which include tools that let people make phone calls over the Internet which the organization says cannot be recorded. More than a million people have downloaded an app called Orbot that allows users to send e-mails anonymously through mobile devices.

She said it was common to assume that people who want to avoid detection online are doing illicit things, like trying to buy drugs or look up illegal content - and that may happen. But it is certainly not the intent.

She says the Guardian Project and its peers are built for people who live under governments that don't allow access to the Web or to certain apps, as well as for people who simply don't like the idea of their online activity being tracked and monitored. Ms. Holmes says that most of the tools are used by people in totalitarian states. "We get a lot of feedback from people who use it to get access to blogs and sites they can't access because of a firewall," she said, referring, for example, to a government blocking access to Twitter.

Most of these services are still relatively small. For example, Cryptocat, the encrypted-message service, typically sees peaks of around 20,000 simultaneous users. In recent months, that number has grown to 27,000. But it's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, that mainstream social networking tools and services can claim.

"As good as all of our intentions are, whatever looks good and is user-friendly gets critical mass," she said. "That is what is going to take off."

But those who work on these services say they don't have to compete directly with the Facebooks, Twitters and Googles of the world. They just have to offer an alternative, independent space where people can interact if and when they need to.

Dan Phiffer works on a project called Occupy.here that gives people access to a private messaging forum by creating small, localized pockets of Internet access. People who are nearby and whose laptops or mobile devices detect the network are directed to a discussion board where they can interact. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, the idea was to allow activists and organizers to interact in a way that would be hard for police officers to track.

His project is naturally resistant to Internet surveillance, "but its original purpose was not for countersurveillance," he said. "What I am trying to do is build alternative online spaces for supporting activists and those who might be sympathetic to their cause."

Mr. Phiffer also thinks that the project can have much larger implications and motivate "broader political engagement by offering a tool for people who are tired of the disregard of their civil liberties by their government."

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Guardian Project, Mr. Kobeissi's project, or any others like it are safe from being broken into by a government or a hacker or another entity. But Mr. Kobeissi said that there was an upside to all of the disturbing security disclosures: at least now, he said, the security world can deal with the information disclosed in leaks "on a per-revelation basis" to make its own offerings stronger and more secure.

The truth, he said, is that "we are developing software in an unknown environment, even though we know so much about the threats being posed."

"The specifics are always changing," he added.

Tools like Cryptocat, he said, are just the impetus for a larger discussion. "It's not an answer by itself," he said. "It is a combination of privacy and technology, democratic movement and political discussion that it is not acceptable to use the Internet as a surveillance medium."

Steve Fankuchen, Oakland CA

I see nothing new here, just new technology with which to communicate, spy, and tap into. Journalists and activists (often conflated in the Nixon era) always dealt with this, whether phone taps, opened mail, houses bugged, or advertisers, landlords and employers threatened, etc.

There is a certain naivite in the current generation (as there was in the late Sixties, largely gone by 1970) that is surprised and indignant when people choose to maximize profit, or when those they criticize or expose fight back, whether in the public or private spheres. We do not live in a vacuum. When it comes to challenging power or existing as a profitable data point, there most certainly is no free lunch.

Lewis and Clark did quite well without Google maps, people had as many real friends before Facebook (arguably more), and workers could go to the bathroom in peace without having to answer the boss's summons before there were cell phones.

Am I a hypocrite, sitting here using the internet to arguably add not one iota of new substance to the subject? Of course I am! However, just because I am a hypocrite, it doesn't mean I am wrong. Are you really any happier, any more content than your parents, who lacked all these interconnected devices?

Technological advances can definitely be good, even inspiring, but there is no inherent virtue in them. It always boils down to the consequences, including those frequently unintended. Or intended by those whose purpose conflicts with your own.

Arthur, Gloucester, MA

As long as the N.S.A. is authorized to snoop with little to no meaningful oversight, we have to assume it will burrow into all attempts to provide privacy.

My concern about the N.S.A. collections is based on the errors I know will occur do to badly written code, over zealous addition of trigger words, and wrong connections made by misidentification of supposed "persons of interest."

Complex code is difficult to write under the best of circumstances even when the goals are clearly understood and described. Innocent people are going to be harmed eventually. With courts refusing to demand that all our rights be respected and protected, we cannot defend ourselves against charges we are not permitted to know and we cannot directly challenge our accusers. Who can possibly think we will still have a democracy if this condition is permitted to exist?

dbg25, NM

People focus often on government spying but a bigger picture that is rarely mentioned is business and corporate spying. For most people the latter is much more invasive.

It is easy to be simplistic and make the government (i.e. NSA) the bad guy but how about the others?

Big business and newspapers themselves who sell data to various business and political interests?

If we are going to be address invasion of privacy, we should not just shout about governments and leave the business alone because government are easier to take on. Talk about business too and more so about social media and its spying.

No castaways on the net By Martin Hutchinson

Asia Times Online

No castaways on the net
.

..As tech becomes an ever more pervasive presence in our lives, old patterns of work, communication and human interaction are being profoundly altered. While the new technology has brought enormous freedoms in some areas, it has also devastated the ability of human beings to live their lives in an autonomous manner, free from interference by meddling government and social groups. In the world of technology, no man is an island, and we are the worse for it.

The Internet inevitably involves a certain loss of privacy. Each time you connect to it, your IP address is stored in the big servers, where it can be accessed by advertisers, governments and bad guys. By knowing what websites you visit and what products you research, advertisers can tailor their offerings more closely to your desires, governments (less attractively) can check up on your contacts with terrorists or other enemies of the state (the level and type of surveillance depending more on the trustworthiness of the government concerned than on your own activity) and bad guys can do bad stuff. It's a gross intrusion into your privacy, but we have decided as a society that the convenience and use of the Internet makes that intrusion worth incurring, and only if you're willing to incur substantial additional inconvenience can you avoid it altogether.

However in this second phase of the Internet the invasions of privacy and restrictions on autonomy are increasing. One especially pernicious invasion is the software that now allows prying neighbors to look up criminal records and indeed arrest records for those not convicted of anything. Of course, in certain very restricted circumstances, such as convicted sex offenders and employers searching the felony convictions of their potential employees, it may well be appropriate for that information to be publicly available, and in many other cases it has been technically available at courthouses. However it is one thing for a nosey parker to have to visit the local courthouse to check the arrest record of a neighbor he's taken a dislike to, and quite another for him to be able to access that information with 30 seconds' effort on the Internet. Many people's lives are going to be damaged by this licensed intrusion, from adults with past periods of teenage wildness to families with members with mild mental disturbance. If this intrusion is to be permitted, there should be a substantial fee involved, preferably payable to the victim.

... ... ...

The Financial Times' Evgeny Morozov last week lamented that the new sharing economy was subversive of workers' rights, so that Uber taxi drivers, for example, are not technically employees and can be "deactivated" at any time if customers don't like them-or presumably if the dispatcher doesn't like them. Once deactivated, the ex-Uber driver must incur the very considerable "networking" unpleasantness and marketing costs of finding another job, living on welfare while he does so.

... ... ...

Like most New Age contracts, the tech sector's employment arrangements work only in one direction for 90% of their employees. Needless to say, some lucky employees of these companies receive grants of stock options in their private, loss-making companies-and work 18 hour days, 7 days a week dreaming of eventual riches, with the majority of their remuneration in a form that would have contravened the 1831 Truck Act if Charles Dickens' Mr Gradgrind had tried the trick in his Victorian factory.

[Oct 20, 2013] Seeking Online Refuge From Spying Eyes By JENNA WORTHAM

NYTimes.com

Consider this scene in "The Circle," Dave Eggers's new novel that imagines a dystopian future dominated by an omnipotent social networking company: Mae, the young protagonist, tries to unplug from her hypernetworked life to go on a covert, solitary kayaking trip. But when she returns to shore, she is greeted by police officers who have been alerted to her excursion by several hidden cameras. She quickly realizes that very little in her life isn't recorded, tracked and analyzed.

It's a troubling image, one that some fear might not be limited to works of fiction. In fact, some elements of Mae's scenario have emerged recently in the news. There was the report that the National Security Agency can create sophisticated maps of some people's personal information and social connections. There were the recent changes to Facebook's privacy settings that will no longer allow users to hide their profiles from public searches. In addition, Google recently revealed that it was considering using anonymous identifiers to track browsing habits online, raising hackles among privacy advocates who have described it as "the new way they will identify you 24/7."

And, at the same time, drones are becoming commonplace - used by the government in counterterrorism efforts and by hobbyists - prompting discussions about the long-term impact on privacy.

These developments, among others, have spurred the creation of a handful of applications and services intended to give people respite and refuge from surveillance, both online and off. They have a simple and common goal: to create ways for people to use the Internet and to communicate online without surveillance.

Nadim Kobeissi, a security adviser in Montreal who works on an encrypted-message service called Cryptocat, said the security and hacker circles of which he is a part have long suspected that the government is listening in on online conversations and exchanges but "have never been able to prove it." He added: "It's been a worst-case-scenario prediction that all turned out to be true, to a worrying extent."

If nothing else, the N.S.A. leaks and disclosures have brought these issues front and center for many people, myself included, who are troubled by how much of our daily and online interaction is concentrated in and around a handful of companies that have funneled data to the N.S.A.

"It's sad that this is the proverbial kick in the butt that needs to bring awareness to this concept," said Harlo Holmes, who works for the Guardian Project, a group that is building several anti-surveillance and privacy applications.

Ms. Holmes says interest has been surging in the Guardian Project's services, which include tools that let people make phone calls over the Internet which the organization says cannot be recorded. More than a million people have downloaded an app called Orbot that allows users to send e-mails anonymously through mobile devices.

She said it was common to assume that people who want to avoid detection online are doing illicit things, like trying to buy drugs or look up illegal content - and that may happen. But it is certainly not the intent.

She says the Guardian Project and its peers are built for people who live under governments that don't allow access to the Web or to certain apps, as well as for people who simply don't like the idea of their online activity being tracked and monitored. Ms. Holmes says that most of the tools are used by people in totalitarian states. "We get a lot of feedback from people who use it to get access to blogs and sites they can't access because of a firewall," she said, referring, for example, to a government blocking access to Twitter.

Most of these services are still relatively small. For example, Cryptocat, the encrypted-message service, typically sees peaks of around 20,000 simultaneous users. In recent months, that number has grown to 27,000. But it's a far cry from the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, that mainstream social networking tools and services can claim.

"As good as all of our intentions are, whatever looks good and is user-friendly gets critical mass," she said. "That is what is going to take off."

But those who work on these services say they don't have to compete directly with the Facebooks, Twitters and Googles of the world. They just have to offer an alternative, independent space where people can interact if and when they need to.

Dan Phiffer works on a project called People who are nearby and whose laptops or mobile devices detect the network are directed to a discussion board where they can interact. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, the idea was to allow activists and organizers to interact in a way that would be hard for police officers to track.

His project is naturally resistant to Internet surveillance, "but its original purpose was not for countersurveillance," he said. "What I am trying to do is build alternative online spaces for supporting activists and those who might be sympathetic to their cause."

Mr. Phiffer also thinks that the project can have much larger implications and motivate "broader political engagement by offering a tool for people who are tired of the disregard of their civil liberties by their government."

Of course, there is no guarantee that the Guardian Project, Mr. Kobeissi's project, or any others like it are safe from being broken into by a government or a hacker or another entity. But Mr. Kobeissi said that there was an upside to all of the disturbing security disclosures: at least now, he said, the security world can deal with the information disclosed in leaks "on a per-revelation basis" to make its own offerings stronger and more secure.

The truth, he said, is that "we are developing software in an unknown environment, even though we know so much about the threats being posed."

"The specifics are always changing," he added.

Tools like Cryptocat, he said, are just the impetus for a larger discussion. "It's not an answer by itself," he said. "It is a combination of privacy and technology, democratic movement and political discussion that it is not acceptable to use the Internet as a surveillance medium."

Steve Fankuchen, Oakland CA

I see nothing new here, just new technology with which to communicate, spy, and tap into. Journalists and activists (often conflated in the Nixon era) always dealt with this, whether phone taps, opened mail, houses bugged, or advertisers, landlords and employers threatened, etc.

There is a certain naivite in the current generation (as there was in the late Sixties, largely gone by 1970) that is surprised and indignant when people choose to maximize profit, or when those they criticize or expose fight back, whether in the public or private spheres. We do not live in a vacuum. When it comes to challenging power or existing as a profitable data point, there most certainly is no free lunch.

Lewis and Clark did quite well without Google maps, people had as many real friends before Facebook (arguably more), and workers could go to the bathroom in peace without having to answer the boss's summons before there were cell phones.

Am I a hypocrite, sitting here using the internet to arguably add not one iota of new substance to the subject? Of course I am! However, just because I am a hypocrite, it doesn't mean I am wrong. Are you really any happier, any more content than your parents, who lacked all these interconnected devices?

Technological advances can definitely be good, even inspiring, but there is no inherent virtue in them. It always boils down to the consequences, including those frequently unintended. Or intended by those whose purpose conflicts with your own.

Arthur, Gloucester, MA

As long as the N.S.A. is authorized to snoop with little to no meaningful oversight, we have to assume it will burrow into all attempts to provide privacy.

My concern about the N.S.A. collections is based on the errors I know will occur do to badly written code, over zealous addition of trigger words, and wrong connections made by misidentification of supposed "persons of interest."

Complex code is difficult to write under the best of circumstances even when the goals are clearly understood and described. Innocent people are going to be harmed eventually. With courts refusing to demand that all our rights be respected and protected, we cannot defend ourselves against charges we are not permitted to know and we cannot directly challenge our accusers. Who can possibly think we will still have a democracy if this condition is permitted to exist?

dbg25, NM

People focus often on government spying but a bigger picture that is rarely mentioned is business and corporate spying. For most people the latter is much more invasive.

It is easy to be simplistic and make the government (i.e. NSA) the bad guy but how about the others?

Big business and newspapers themselves who sell data to various business and political interests?

If we are going to be address invasion of privacy, we should not just shout about governments and leave the business alone because government are easier to take on. Talk about business too and more so about social media and its spying.

A Senator Raises Privacy Questions About Cross-Device Tracking - NYTimes.com

A lawmaker has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate online ad companies that track consumers across devices, like showing them ads on their phones based on Web sites they visit on a computer.

The letter, sent on Thursday by Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, to Edith Ramirez, the commission's chairwoman, cited a New York Times article that ran on Sunday detailing the new ways that mobile advertisers are tracking consumers, including across devices.

"Such tracking envelops users in a digital environment where marketers know their preferences and personal information no matter which device they use while consumers are kept largely in the dark," Mr. Markey wrote.

One of the new challenges for advertisers is that apps on mobile phones do not use cookies, the predominant method for tracking people across Web sites. It has generally been impossible for advertisers to show someone a mobile ad based on searches they did on a different device, for instance, or to know whether a mobile ad resulted in a purchase on another device.

Various companies are figuring out ways to connect people's behavior across devices and show them ads accordingly. One of the companies featured in the article, Drawbridge, applies statistical modeling to data from ad exchanges and Web publishers to determine that several devices belong to the same person.

A Drawbridge spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Other companies, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, have other ways to track people's behavior across devices, like when they are logged in to their accounts with those services.

"Previous tracking technologies such as cookies are giving way to more sophisticated, surreptitious methods for monitoring users," Mr. Markey wrote. "The implications of this evolution are enormous for the privacy of millions of Americans."

Who knows what they know? You don't.
Why care what they know? Because beyond the free ad for Starbucks that Chris says is not duplicitous (and he's right), you also get profiled, stereotyped and you and your life put into a tailored data/lifestyle bucket.

You will reside in a psychographic, economic, social and behavioral silo filled with others just like you.

You will get offers, news and reality tailored to you based on the bucket you are put in.
Who knows what bucket you are in and why?

You don't.

And if this keeps up and does not change, you never will.
So, why did we make the old credit bureaus tell us what's in our file?
Because that was the old way to be put in a bucket.
Digital buckets for all.
Whose in yours?
Whose in mine?

Whether the data collection is occurring on-line or off-line, I'm equally concerned. The distinction is irrelevant. I read that Target is so skilled with their data collection that not only can they unilaterally surmise that a customer is pregnant they can even predict her due date and send product coupons relevant to her stage of pregnancy.

Don't use the service if you don't want to be tracked? Come on, get real. We all have to live in the society we live in- I'm not going to slog down to the local mall to search for stuff, I'm going to find exactly what I want on Amazon and have it delivered to my front door within two days. But why should Amazon be able to add a billion dollars to their revenues by knowing everything about everybody?

As for "tracking devices" I was simply using the term as a metaphor for the myriad efforts to gather private information about individuals.

Chris, San Francisco

Big deal. Stop trying to railroad business in a fragile economy. Advertising creates jobs. The consumer can always choose not to purchase. Nothing duplicitous occurs.

no name, New England

A fragile economy is a flimsy excuse for intruding into one's life without permission.

Acorn,Red Wing, MN

Why is there the presumption that consumers' use of the internet is not subject to privacy mores? Then Is it OK to put tracking devices in cars, beds, or even condoms? Is ANY object/appliance/merchandise purchased from a business OK to be used to gather intelligence about the purchaser? Where does this end? I applaud Senator Markey for his effort.

Adam, NY

How is knowing that someone on a mobile phone is the same person as the user logged into a desktop/laptop considered a "tracking device?"

You are more than welcome to block cookies on your browsers, and the newer technologies the NYT is alluding involve being a signed in user. Thus, you are not required to sign into any particular website and/or third party login system if you choose not to. If a particular service or content provider refuses to share their product/information/services with you, it is not your right to access it without following their predefined protocol, some of which might involve staying clued in to who you are and what particular marketing they would like to target to you.

Spotify used to only allow Facebook logins, yet I did not have Facebook. I refused to sign up for Facebook just to listen to the cool new music service in town, so I waited.

No one is demanding that you use the internet in these specific ways, but for many providers that do not charge for their offering, advertising is the name of the game.

If you do not like "tracking," then what do you think an offline marketer sending you a catalogue is? Just because you subscribed to a magazine ten years ago, someone sold your name and address to the highest bidder, and now they know where you live. That's tracking.

Sending me an ad for flip flops across multiple websites and on multiple devices does not concern me in the same way offline marketing does.

German Government CONFIRMS Key Entities Not To Use Windows 8 with TPM 2.0, Fearing Control by 'Third Parties' (Such As NSA) by Wolf Richter

08/26/2013 | www.testosteronepit.com

I expected the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) to contact me in an icily polite but firm manner and make me recant, and I almost expected some goons to show up with an offer I couldn't refuse, and I half expected Microsoft to shut down my computers remotely and wipe out all my data and make me, as the Japanese say, cry into my pillow for weeks, or something. But none of that happened.

Instead, the BSI officially confirmed on its website the key statements in what has become my most popular article ever. On my humble site alone, it was read over 44,000 times so far, received over 2,090 Facebook "likes," and was tweeted over 530 times. Here it is: LEAKED: German Government Warns Key Entities Not To Use Windows 8 – Links The NSA.

Internal documents from the BSI that were leaked to Die Zeit described how Windows 8 in conjunction with the new Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) – "a special surveillance chip," it has been called – allowed Microsoft to control computers remotely through a built-in backdoor without possibility for the user to opt in or opt out. The goal is Digital Rights Management and computer security. Through remote access via this backdoor, Microsoft determines what software is allowed to run on the computer, and what software, such as illegal copies or viruses and Trojans, should be disabled. Keys to that backdoor are likely accessible to the NSA – and in an ironic twist, perhaps even to the Chinese.

Users of Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 (the standard configuration and not an option) surrender control over their machine the moment they turn it on. For that reason, according to the leaked documents, experts at the BSI warned the German Federal Administration and other key users against deploying computers with Windows 8 and TPM 2.0.

The BSI could have brushed off these leaked documents as fakes or rumors, or whatnot. But instead, in response to "media reports," it decided to clarify a few points on its website, and in doing so, confirmed the key elements. Here are the salient points:

For specific user groups, the use of Windows 8 in combination with TPM may well mean an increase in security. This includes users who, for various reasons, cannot or do not want to take care of the security of their system, but trust that the manufacturer of the system provides and maintains a secure solution. This is a valid user scenario, but the manufacturer should provide sufficient transparency about the potential limitations of the architecture and possible consequences of its use.

From the perspective of the BSI, the use of Windows 8 in combination with TPM 2.0 is accompanied by a loss of control over the operating system and the hardware. This results in new risks for the user, specifically for the Federal Administration and critical infrastructure.

It explains how "unintentional errors" could cause hardware and software to become permanently useless, which "would not be acceptable" for the Federal Administration or for other users. "In addition, the newly established mechanisms can also be used for sabotage by third parties."

Among them: the NSA and possibly the Chinese.

The BSI considers complete control over the information technology – including a conscious opt-in and later the possibility of an opt-out – a fundamental condition for a responsible use of hardware and operating system.

Since these conditions have not been met, the BSI has warned the "Federal Administration and critical infrastructure users" not to use the Windows 8 with TPM 2.0. The BSI said that it remained in contact with the Trusted Computing Group as well as with makers of operating systems and hardware "in order to find appropriate solutions" (whole text in German).

This alleged connection between Windows and the NSA isn't new. Geeks have for years tried to document how Microsoft has been cooperating with the NSA and other members of the US Intelligence Community in designing its operating systems. For example, rumors bubbled up in 2007 that computers with Vista, at the time Microsoft's latest and greatest (and much despised) operating system, automatically established a connection to, among others, the Department of Defense Information Center and Halliburton Company, back then the Darth Vader of Corporate America.

The Windows 8 debacle comes on top of the breathless flow of Edward Snowden's revelations and paint a much more detailed picture of how the NSA's spying activities are dependent on Corporate America. These revelations are already slamming tech companies [my take: US Tech Companies Raked Over The Coals In China ] as they find it harder to sell their allegedly compromised products overseas. Which foreign government or corporation would now want to use Windows 8 with TPM 2.0?

Or is this – and the entire hullabaloo about the Snowden revelations – just another item in the governmental and corporate category of "This Too Shall Pass?" The answer lies in this paragraph:

No laws define the limits of the NSA's power. No Congressional committee subjects the agency's budget to a systematic, informed and skeptical review. With unknown billions of Federal dollars, the agency purchases the most sophisticated communications and computer equipment in the world. But truly to comprehend the growing reach of this formidable organization, it is necessary to recall once again how the computers that power the NSA are also gradually changing lives of Americans....

The year? Not 2013. But thirty years ago.

It was published by the New York Times in 1983, adapted from David Burnham's book, The Rise of the Computer State [brought to my attention by @mark_white0]. And we're still going down the same road. Only now, we're a lot further along. No wonder that tech companies, government agencies, and Congress alike think that this too shall pass. Because it has always done so before.

So, here is my offending article: LEAKED: German Government Warns Key Entities Not To Use Windows 8 – Links The NSA.

Author webpage: www.amazon.com/author/wolfrichter

[Aug 17, 2013] Internet Traffic Plunges By 40% As Google Goes Dark For Five Minutes

Zero Hedge

Want to throw the world into sheer URL panic and outright informational chaos? Then just take out Google.

At least that is what a brief five minute outage of the world's favorite search engine on Friday night shows, when after all of Google's services were hit with unprecedented downtime from 3:52 pm until 3:57 pm Pacific Dauylight Time, some 40% of global internet traffic was lobbed off.

As the DailyNews reports, based on web analytics company GoSquared, there was a massive dip in internet traffic during the brief blackout as users struggled to find what it was they were looking for on the worldwide web.

Yet instead of other web-based search engines benefitting from GOOG's downtime (apparently nobody has heard of Yahoo, despite its attractive CEO gracing the cover of Vogue and engaging in such other serious CEO activities), it was Twitter that saw the surge in traffic:

According to Topsy analytics, tweets per minute skyrocketed around the point that Google went black, from an average of 200 tweets per minute about Google to more than 1,000.

"For five freakin' minutes!" one Twitter user complained. Another wrote, "Google was down for five minutes… Is it a sign that the END OF THE WORLD has started?"

SkyNews has more:

The tech company said all of its services from Google Search to Gmail to YouTube to Google Drive went down for between one and five minutes last night.

The reason for the outage is not yet known, and Google refused to provide any further information when contacted by Sky News Online.

"That's huge," said GoSquared developer Simon Tabor. "As internet users, our reliance on Google.com being up is huge.

"It's also of note that pageviews spiked shortly afterwards, as users managed to get to their destination."

A message on the Google Apps Dashboard showed all of its services were hit.

surf0766

Hooking in the new NSA equipment...

CheapBastard

When the Midget porn sites went dark, the SEC panicked ... thinking they were caught ... and shut off ... again.

ebworthen

People might actually understand their serfdom if they didn't have stuff to distract them.

LetThemEatRand

It was already clear. They had to plug in a new system because they are afraid public outrage (there actually is a little, surprisingly) will make them pretend to stop doing it.

This way, they can curtail the old spy network and switch over to the new one, and it will be the least untruthful testimony to say "we shut it down."

GMadScientist

DNS == Domain NSA Service

[Aug 17, 2013] What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy A civil libertarian reflects on the dangers of the surveillance state By PEGGY NOONAN

August 16, 2013 | WSJ.com

What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?

Is it just some prissy relic of the pre-technological past?

We talk about this now because of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency revelations, and new fears that we are operating, all of us, within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state. They log your calls here, they can listen in, they can read your emails. They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and yours. This of course is in pursuit of a laudable goal, security in the age of terror.

Is it excessive? It certainly appears to be. Does that matter? Yes. Among other reasons: The end of the expectation that citizens' communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country.

[Jun 21, 2013] Surveillance State Three Ways You're Being Watched Video

Your cell phone is probably equally important source of information.
June 20, 2013 | Bloomberg

If you think you can steer clear of government surveillance by staying off-line, think again. Bloomberg Contributing Editor Richard Falkenrath reveals the three most common ways you are tracked by the government every day.

[Jun 17, 2013] Edward Snowden Is Completely Wrong By Michael Hirsh and Sara Sorcher

Jun 15, 2013 | NationalJournal.com

A NEW CONCEPT OF PRIVACY

The reason may not be entirely obvious at first. In the past decade, our very concept of privacy has changed to the point that we're less likely to see information-sharing as a violation of our personal liberty. In an era when our daily lives are already networked, we have E-ZPasses that give us access to the fast lane in exchange for keeping the government informed about where we drive. We shop online despite knowing that the commercial world will track our buying preferences. We share our personal reflections and habits not only with Facebook and Google but also (albeit sometimes inadvertently) with thousands of online marketers who want our information. All of this means Americans are less likely to erupt in outrage today over one more eye on their behavior. "

One thing I find amusing is the absolute terror of Big Brother, when we've all already gone and said, 'Cuff me,' to Little Brother," jokes John Arquilla, an intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll bears this out. Americans are vaguely aware of these slowly eroding walls of privacy, and 55 percent say they are worried about the overall accumulation of personal information about them "by businesses, law enforcement, government, individuals, and other groups." The survey also found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that business, government, social-media sites, and other groups are accessing their most personal information without their consent. Even so, for the most part, they accept it as an unavoidable modern phenomenon. Most younger and college-educated people-in contrast to Snowden-take a benign view of these changes.

Despite the press treatment of the NSA story, which judging from editorial opinion has come out largely on Snowden's side, most Americans appear relatively unperturbed. A Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll conducted last weekend found that 56 percent of Americans believe NSA access to the call records of millions of Americans is an "acceptable" way for the federal government to investigate terrorism. An even bigger majority, 62 percent, said it was more important for the government to investigate terrorist threats than it was to safeguard personal privacy. That explains why soft queasiness has not congealed into hard political outrage.

Another problem for the alarmists: No evidence suggests that the worst fears of people like Snowden have ever been realized. In his interview with The Guardian, which broke the story along with The Washington Post, Snowden warned that the NSA's accumulation of personal data

"increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it's getting to the point where you don't have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody."

In a state with no checks and balances, that is a possibility. But even the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called NSA surveillance "a stone's throw away from an Orwellian state," admits it knows of no cases where anything even remotely Orwellian has happened. Nor can any opponent of NSA surveillance point to a Kafkaesque Joseph K. who has appeared in an American courtroom on mysterious charges trumped up from government surveillance. Several civil-liberties advocates, asked to cite a single case of abuse of information, all paused for long seconds and could not cite any.

There is also great misunderstanding about how the NSA system works and whether such abuse could even happen in the future. It's unclear if the government will be capable of accessing and misusing the vast array of personal data it is accumulating, as Snowden predicts. The NSA appears primarily to use computer algorithms to sift through its database for patterns that may be possible clues to terrorist plots. The government says it is not eavesdropping on our phone calls or voyeuristically reading our e-mails. Instead, it tracks the "metadata" of phone calls-whom we call and when, the duration of those conversations-and uses computer algorithms to trawl its databases for phone patterns or e-mail and search keywords that may be clues to terrorist plots. It can also map networks by linking known operatives with potential new suspects. If something stands out as suspicious, agents are still required by law to obtain a court order to look into the data they have in their storehouses. Officials must show "probable cause" and adhere to the principle of "minimization," by which the government commits to reducing as much as possible the inadvertent vacuuming up of information on citizens instead of foreigners-the real target of the NSA's PRISM program. The program, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has had success. He told NBC that tracking a suspicious communication from Pakistan to a person in Colorado allowed officials to identify a terrorist cell in New York City that wanted to bomb its subway system in the fall of 2009.

Indeed, the scandal is perhaps narrower in scope than it's made out to be.

"The only novel legal development that I see in that area is the government says, 'We know there's relevant information in there-if we don't get it now it will be gone; we won't be able to find it when we need it. So we'll gather it now and then we'll search it only when we have a good basis for the search to be done,' "

says Stewart Baker, who was the first assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department and is a former NSA general counsel. "The courts are still involved. They say, 'You put it in a safe place, lock it up, come to me when you want to search it.' If you're serious about ways to make [counterterrorism] work and still protect privacy, it seems like a pretty good compromise."

Baker says the government built in as many controls and oversights as it could think of. "Two different presidents from two different parties with very different perspectives. Two different Intelligence committees led by two different parties. A dozen judges chosen from among the life-appointed judiciary. None of them thought this was legally problematic," Baker says. "And one guy says, 'Yeah, I disagree, so I'm going to blow it up.' If the insistence is, 'It only satisfies me if it's out in public,' then we're not talking about intelligence-gathering. We're not even talking about law enforcement. We're talking about research. And I'm not sure you can run a large country in a dangerous world just by doing open-source research."

Other advocates of the NSA operation say the sheer vastness of the program is what helps shield citizens. "Individuals are protected by the anonymity granted by the quantity of information," says Eric Posner, a University of Chicago law professor. "It's just too difficult to spy on such a vast number of people in a way that's meaningful."

THE CULTURE OF INTRUSION

Behavioral research shows that, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water who doesn't notice the rising temperature, Americans have grown inured to the "culture of intrusion" in today's world of continuous data exchange. "There are undeniable changes in behavior we have been observing in the past 10 years or so, with the birth and rise of social media," says Alessandro Acquisti, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied the effects.

"There is evidence that people will give away personal data for very small rewards, such as the psychological benefit of sharing with others, or even for a discount coupon," he says. "For instance, on social media, people quite openly talk, without containing their audience only to their Facebook friends, about dating, eating, going out, success, and failures-something that 10 years ago you would have disclosed only to your direct friends."

The Michigan-based Ponemon Institute, which conducts independent research on privacy and data collection, has found that a relatively small number of Americans, only about 14 percent, care enough about their privacy on a consistent basis to change their behavior to preserve it. These are the people who will not buy a book on Amazon because they would have to surrender information about themselves, or don't go to certain websites if they fear they're going to be behaviorally profiled, or won't contribute to political campaigns for the same reason. By contrast, a substantial majority of Americans, about 63 percent, say they care about their privacy, but "there's no evidence to suggest they're going to do anything different to preserve it," says Larry Ponemon, who runs the institute. (Some 23 percent care so little about the issue they are known as "privacy complacent," Ponemon says.)

People are blithe even as they discover how much their online behavior can hurt them personally, on everything from job and college applications to terrorist investigations. "People are losing jobs because of things they posted on their Facebook page," says Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, who refuses to use Facebook or Twitter or even conduct potentially controversial searches on Google. "I just had a feeling all along that by the time people realized how vulnerable they were, it would be too late. There would be too much information about them online."

There is a difference, to be sure, between government and private-sector abuses of privacy. "Even I recognize that it's one thing for Google to know too much, because they aren't putting me in jail. It's another thing for government, because they can coerce me," says Michael Hayden, who as director of the NSA from 1999 to 2006 was a primary mover behind the agency's transformation from Cold War dinosaur to a post-9/11 terror-detection leviathan with sometimes frightening technical and legal powers. "But if we weren't doing this, there would be holy hell to raise."

That is likely true, too. Defenders of the program say, as Hayden does, that the government had no choice. "This is about taping foreign telecommunications transmissions that just happen to pass through the United States because of the way the Internet architecture is designed," Thompson says. "It really doesn't have anything to do with spying on Americans; it's about spying on foreigners the easy way." At first this meant finding the right communications hardware. The USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf-class submarine, was modified to tap into the trunk lines, but there are really only a handful of major Internet conduits to the Middle East, Thompson says. Eventually, someone probably said, "Jeepers, most of this traffic passes through the U.S. anyway. Why don't we just talk to Verizon?"

Hayden admitted this, surprisingly, in an open session of the House Intelligence Committee way back in 2000, telling the members that this monitoring was needed to enable the NSA to get in front of the data. No one listened right way, but after 9/11 and the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the mood shifted dramatically in favor of more aggressive surveillance. "This agency grew up in the Cold War. We came from the world of Enigma [the Nazi encryption device whose code was broken by the Allies], for God's sake. There were no privacy concerns in intercepting German communications to their submarines, or Russian microwave transmissions to missile bases," Hayden says today. Now, "all the data you want to go for is coexisting with your stuff. And the trick then, the only way the NSA succeeds, is to get enough power to be able to reach that new data but with enough trust to know enough not to grab your stuff even though it's whizzing right by." The demonization of the NSA now is ironic, he says, considering that in late 2002 the Senate Intelligence Committee (which included Wyden), in its joint 9/11 report with the House, criticized the agency for its "failure to address modern communications technology aggressively" and its "cautious approach to any collection of intelligence relating to activities in the United States."

Most Americans, based on the polls, seem willing to make the trade-off between what President Obama called "modest encroachments on privacy" and safety from terrorists. "There is a lot of authoritarian overreach in American society, both from the drug war and the war on terror," David Simon, the writer and producer of the hit HBO shows The Wire and Treme, wrote in his blog this week, in a scathing blast at Snowden and the pundits who have lionized him. "But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed, and ideologically motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks."

HOW WE SURRENDER PRIVACY

Every time you go online, you're a target. Advertisers are searching for you-maybe not by name, but through your interests and your assessed income and even your health symptoms, all based on your search-engine terms and the cookies deposited on your computer to watch you surf the Internet and report back on your habits. Sites may have an agreement with advertisers, which can target their messages to you. And they likely sell this information to third-party brokers who can do what they want with it.

A sweeping Wall Street Journal investigation in 2010 found that the biggest U.S. websites have technologies tracking people who visit their pages, sometimes upwards of 100 tools per site. One intrusive string of code even recorded users' keystrokes and transmitted them to a data-gathering firm for analysis. "A digital dossier over time is built up about you by that site or third-party service or data brokers," says Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center's Technology Policy Program at George Mason University. "They collect these data profiles and utilize them to sell you or market you better services or goods." This is what powers the free Internet we know and love; users pay nothing or next to nothing for services-and give up pieces of personal information for advertisers in exchange. If you search for a Mini Cooper on one website, you're likely to see ads elsewhere for lightweight, fuel-efficient cars. Companies robotically categorize users with descriptions such as "urban upscale" to "rural NASCAR" to tailor the advertising experience, says Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute. "They'll use ZIP codes and census data to figure out what their lifestyle profile is."

As a result of these changes, the government's very concept of privacy has grown ever narrower and more technical. "Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it's an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture," Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, said in 2007 as Congress was busy debating new rules for government eavesdropping. That's quickly fading into history, Kerr said. The new version of privacy is defined by enough rules affecting the use of data that Americans' constitutionally enumerated rights (privacy not among them) will be safe. "Protecting anonymity isn't a fight that can be won. Anyone that's typed in their name on Google understands that." We've already given up so much privacy to the government, Kerr said back then, that it can be protected only by "inspectors general, oversight committees, and privacy boards" that have become staples of the intelligence community.

Clapper seems to be relying on a similar concept. The United States, he said in an interview with NBC, can put all the communications traffic that passes through the country in a massive metaphorical library. Presumably, the "shelves" contain the phone numbers of Americans, the duration of their calls, and their e-mail correspondence. "To me, collection of U.S. persons' data would mean taking the book off the shelf, opening it up, and reading it," Clapper said. Instead, the government is "very precise" about which "books" it borrows from the library. "If it is one that belongs or was put in there by an American citizen or a U.S. person, we are under strict court supervision, and have to get permission to actually look at that. So the notion that we're trolling through everyone's e-mails and voyeuristically reading them, or listening to everyone's phone calls, is on its face absurd. We couldn't do it even if we wanted to, and I assure you, we don't want to."

Critics say the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, designed to guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, should impede the government's access to personal data-even if that information is available in the commercial sphere. "If Google has it, that says nothing about whether the government should have it," says Cato's Harper. "It's not reasonable to collect information without probable cause or reasonable suspicion."

For most Americans, the reassurance that the government won't gratuitously pursue them may well be enough. For Snowden and his defenders, it clearly is not. In explaining his daring act, he said he hoped to provoke a national debate about surveillance and secrecy, and added: "The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change."

That fear is likely to be realized. Snowden offered a valuable window into a top-secret world The Washington Post wrote about in great detail three years ago, when it published a series on a clandestine intelligence-industrial complex that

"has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it, or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

Perhaps the country should thank Snowden for reopening that issue, even as it prosecutes him for what is plainly a violation of his oath of secrecy. But after the thanks are offered, we will probably just get back to business

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