May 23, 2012

#Google worse than #Microsoft? – The dark side of the Net

Maybe Google is a giant Pacman trying to devour all the data it can.
Five years ago, the idea that Google was worse than Microsoft, whether for problems of sheer size, using its size in quasi-monopolistic ways, having poor ethics on some issues, or specifically, badly handling personal data, would have seemed laughable. Two years ago, even, it wouldn’t have gotten serious consideration.

Today? The answer is arguably yes.

The master domino, tumbling all others, seems to be Google Street View. A secondary domino is Google’s new no-opt-out terms of service, combined with its plan (and, so far febrile attempts) to make Google Plus a “platform” for the full range of Google products and services.

The secret Street View data collection led to inquiries in at least a dozen countries, including four in the United States alone. But Google has yet to give a complete explanation of why the data was collected and who at the company knew about it.
To continue the comparison, that’s arrogance of a Bill Gates level, to not be talking more.

That’s compounded by U.S. regulators being slower, lazier, or more neoliberal than their European counterparts:
No regulator in the United States has ever seen the information that Google’s cars gathered from American citizens.
It seems to be a mix of factors here in the U.S.:
Michael Copps, who last year ended a 10-year term as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, said regulators were overwhelmed. “The industry has gotten more powerful, the technology has gotten more pervasive and it’s getting to the point where we can’t do too much about it,” he said.
But, Dear Leader, Barack Obama, has yet to propose more enforcement powers, money or anything else. Since he’s expanded his spying on American citizens, that may be of a piece, but that’s a whole nother subject.

And yet, per a friend of a friend on Facebook, many people blithely take the Jeff Jarvis attitude and don’t worry about such things.

Back to the subject matter at hand.

Next, we have Google engaging in old Microsoft levels of lying, if not worse:
When German regulators forced the company to admit that the cars were sweeping up unencrypted Internet data from wireless networks, the company blamed a programming mistake where an engineer’s experimental software was accidentally included in Street View. It stressed that the data was never intended for any Google products.
Not true:
The F.C.C. did not see it Google’s way, saying last month the engineer “intended to collect, store and review” the data “for possible use in other Google products.” It also said the engineer shared his software code and a “design document” with other members of the Street View team.
On privacy issues, with Microsoft, it was just the suckiness of various versions of the Windows OS. With Google, it’s deliberate snooping.

Of course, back to Michael Copps’ lament and my observation about Dear Leader, with Google only being fined $25,000 for this particular nefariousness, it’s no wonder it does it.

Declining to answer questions for an article like this doesn’t make you look good, either.

More on the problem below the fold.

Big question: Is Google “too big to fail,” per a college professor’s comment?

Tosh. Google does nothing essential. Bing or Yahoo can be used for search. Flickr or Pinterest, or some more minor site, for photos. Somebody can come up with an inexpensive equivalent of Google Analytics. Etc., etc.

The real problem is people like this professor who have come to think that way. And regulators.

In Germany, the original investigator initiated criminal investigtion. However, Hamburg state prosecutors have yet to file charges. But, in much of Europe, where privacy rights are taken more seriously, it’s needed.

Next, part two — Google Plus and Google’s plans.

There’s an analogy with Microsoft here, too — the “bundling” analogy that PCs were having Windows OS “bundled” with Internet Explorer, and Firefox or Google Chrome not being offered. If the U.S. won’t do it, I hope the EU looks at whether Google is trying to do forced bunding with Google Plus, plus GMail, Picasa, Blogger, etc.  

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