Tag Archives: google - Page 2

You Are Google’s Product, Not Their Consumer

There’s been a big uproar around a comment Google’s former CEO and current Chairman, Eric Schmidt, said the other week when asked why they are so adamant that people use real names on Google Plus. His answer: Google Plus “essentially provides an identity service with a link structure around your friends” — and you thought it was just a neat way to see your friends’ photos. Free Software Magazine has a very interesting analysis of the situation via an equally interesting Business Week article, which points out the identity service is not so much to help us regular folk keep spammers and cyber bullies at bay, as it is a cash cow for Google.

Why? Because anonymous user data is much less valuable to advertisers than real data. If they can tie your name and zip code to your Google searches, well the sky’s the limit on what they can learn about you; then they can show you ads that are better tailored to your interests, so that you’re more likely to buy their stuff, making their ad campaigns a lot more effective. And here’s how Google advertises itself to investors:

Who are our customers? Our customers are over one million advertisers, from small businesses targeting local customers to many of the world’s largest global enterprises, who use Google AdWords to reach millions of users around the world.

In other words, Google sells you — the digital shadow of you, at least — to advertisers, and that’s how they make money. So their end goal isn’t to make you happy, but rather to make the people who keep their lights on happy: the advertisers. The only thing they have to do is make sure that people use Google services: the search engine, GMail, Android phones, Google News, etc. And that’s the extent to which they care what you think: so that you will keep using their services, and they can keep selling you to advertisers. The hardest part of their job is probably to walk this fine line between pissing people off enough to leave and keeping advertisers interested in their user data. But as long as they keep creating services that are better or cheaper than anything else, then people will keep coming back to rent themselves out to the advertisers.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. — Andrew Lewis

And finally, The Onion had a funny video a while back about Google’s new opt-out program:

From Free Software Magazine and Business Week, via Slashdot

Smartphone Tracking Is Not News To Police

Probably much to Apple’s dismay, this story just won’t die. First, someone figured out that iPhones store where they’ve been. Then, someone else figured out that Android phones do the same. Then others figured out that both phones send their data to Apple and Google, respectively. Now, CNET has a story saying all of that has been an open secret among computer forensics specialists for some time and that various law enforcement organizations, from local police to federal agencies, have been making use of that data for quite some time.

Legally, there is still no consensus on whether this practice is allowed without a warrant. At the border however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (the nation’s most liberal) has approved the copying of all data on any electronic device by law enforcement, even if there’s no reason for it. And the CNET article lists at least three companies that are happy to provide any agency with software that will easily mine that location data off your phone, and into the Gestapo’s hands.

Realistically though, smartphones are like crack. News could come out tomorrow saying they’re making everyone sterile, and it wouldn’t hurt their sales a bit. I mean, what are the chances you’ll even want kids anyway? Or get arrested? Really low. But the chances that you’ll be on Facebook in five minutes while listening to Pandora and gearing up for Angry Birds are like super high.

From CNET via Slashdot

Both iPhones And Androids Also Phone Home

The Wall Street Journal is fanning the flames of this week’s developments that both the iPhone and Android phones store the locations of where they’ve been on the phone. Now, WSJ has found out that both of them also separately send their location data to Apple and Google, respectively. Android phones send location data to Google several times an hour, and iPhones send it to Apple about once every 12 hours. They both also transmit info on nearby Wi-Fi networks.

Why do they do this?  WSJ says “as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people’s locations via their cellphones.” Having that kind of location data is worth a lot of money, because they can get all kinds of statistics about people’s behaviors, not to mention traffic data, and accurate maps of Wi-Fi networks.

It’s like Google and Apple are spy factories, and their spies are disguised as really neat toys. “Wanna play with this really cool toy? Yeah, you do. We’ll just be standing over here, creeping over your shoulder — don’t mind us.”

From The Wall Street Journal via NPR

Android Phones Also Track Themselves

Yesterday, news came out that iPhones and iPads keep the locations of everywhere they go in a file on the device, which then gets replicated to computers with which they sync. Now, someone found that Android phones also store the exact same kind of data.

Two interesting notes:

  • The guys who found the iPhone location data said they had “looked for similar tracking code in [Google’s] Android phones and couldn’t find any”, so apparently they didn’t look too hard
  • The Android file is a cache, so it doesn’t keep location data forever — unlike the iPhone.

From packetlss via shugendo

Crowdsourcing Prophecy

xkcd likes to make cool graphs from Google search results, like one about the number of Google hits various phrases like “x bottles of beer on wall” and “I’ve had x boy/girlfriends” get for varying values of x, and another about the frequency of strip versions of various games. Here’s his latest, about our bleak future. I can already tell that my favorite year will be 2067.

Why We Need Driverless Cars

Sebastian Thrun gave a TED talk recently about why the driverless cars that came out of DARPA’s Grand Challenge and are being developed at Google aren’t just a nice feature like cruise control, but rather a necessity for society. The vast majority of car accidents are caused by human error, and they are the leading cause of death for young people. Robotic cars could vastly improve highway capacity and eliminate traffic jams. They would allow people to reclaim the average hour spent on commuting and do something useful with it. And the various forms of distracted driving — sleepy driving, drunk driving, texting while driving, shaving while driving — would be eliminated.

The technology for driverless cars is here: Thrun’s cars have successfully driven over 140,000 miles on all kinds of roads and conditions, from highways to dense city streets, including California’s Highway 1 and the “crookedest street in the world”, San Francisco’s Lombard Street. The EU is also developing a similar concept of the “road train,” made up of driverless cars. Right now all of this is at the prototype stage, but it could be brought to market in probably around a decade.

The big issue isn’t the technology, but rather the legality. If you get in a car accident now, you or the other driver are likely responsible. But if two driverless cars are involved in an accident, where does the blame go? To you? To the other car? To Google? And what if someone gets injured or killed? Would Google get sued for millions each time? No car manufacturer would take on that liability.

The truth is, as a society, we’d rather deal with the 10 million car accidents per year and the 39,000 deaths they cause because, at least humans were responsible. To put that into perspective, it would be as if everyone in New York City got in a car accident every year, and everyone in Greenwich Village died as a result. We don’t want machines killing us, even if the total number would be much, much lower. We’ve already had a sneak peek of the coming backlash, via the scandal surrounding “unintended acceleration” in Toyota cars. For over a year, the cars were blamed for a couple dozen deaths, until most of these turned out to be caused by driver error. It makes you wonder how many at-fault drivers, having heard of the acceleration problems, decided to blame their accident on the car? After all, that instinct is only human.

But we do want driverless cars after all, so what will probably happen is that cars will gradually become more and more “automatic”, until we get used to the idea and the legal ramifications get sorted out. Cruise control has been around for a couple of decades, and self-parking cars for a couple of years. “Lane-departure warning systems” which detect your car drifting out of its lane are becoming more common, as are collision warning systems which predict that you’re about to crash.

In a few years, we might see some enhanced version of cruise control that actually controls the car during cruise conditions on the highway. Then during traffic, and finally in the city. All requiring an alert driver of course, to shoulder the blame if anything should go wrong.