… well, not really, but they should!!!
Following two simple guidelines would help: 1) Don’t ever change the function of installed software unless the user has requested it (don’t even suggest it. Just sit there quietly until told othewise) and 2) Don’t evern install new software. Ever. That is the user’s job, not Google’s or anyone else’s.
I now know that Google’s philosophy allows for the flagrant violation of these important guidelines, without impunity or regret. This makes Google Evil.
The relationship between software and function should not change on your computer unless you want it to, or at the very least, it should change only if you know about it and have the option of changing opting out. Indeed, the option should never me raised by the software itself. Your software should just sit there and work and integrate with the rest of your software as you originally specified. A previously rarely used (by you) word processor should no more unilaterally become the default for handling certain documents than your car should be replaced by your little-used bike as your main form of transportation. So when, out of the blue, Facebook notifications sent to me via email started to open an instance of Google Chrome instead of Firefox then I became quite concerned. I did not know who the culprit was, Google or Facebook.
Then, I went to check a Google alert email and THAT also caused Google Chrome to open instead of Firefox. That demonstrated to me that Google was the likely culprit, but perhaps not. Until proven otherwise, Google is the bad guy. The evil bad guy.
This was easy to fix. It is a two step process. First, I totally uninstalled Google Chrome so that it could never intrude as my default browser again. Now that Google has demonstrated itself to no longer live up to its famous motto, Google Chrome can certainly not be installed on my system. Or at least, not until I have assurances. Also, the installation process for Google products on Linux in the past has been abnormal and in my view potentially evil. So when Google gets on board with Open Source in real ways and not just fake ways, and explains this latest evil to me, and starts to think about their overall strategy, I’m afraid that Google is on my list of Evil corporations.
The second step towards fixing the Chrome problem is to fix the psychological damage of having been had by a company that I trusted. And that, of course, is done by blogging about it. I want all 14 of my readers to know this: I trusted Goolge a week ago, I do not trust Google today.
Several months ago I had a meeting with the IT chief of a major institution in which we were speaking, along with department heads outside of IT, about security. This particular IT chief was far more paranoid about security than I thought he needed to be, but for someone in his position, I suppose more paranoid is better than less paranoid (up to a point). After the meeting, we had one of those unofficial hallway conversations about security and related issues, and it was at that time that I learned that he was quite comfortable with the idea of handing all of his email and file sharing related duties over to Google as soon as possible. He did not say the main reasons for this, but I assumed there would be many.
One of those reasons is, of course, security, but another and closely related reason is responsibility for security. Mr. IT Chief, if Google was handing everything, would not have to worry if there was a major security breach. It is even possible to imagine the scenario in which a high-end decision maker in IT would pass the system off to Google knowing, or strongly suspecting, that Google would be more likely to screw up the security than if the system did not change hands, but since the responsibility for security would be passed along as well, it would not matter. (This is called the “Agency Effect.”)
Which is fine. It is probably the case that hospitals, universities, major businesses, and so on are too paranoid, and whatever Google does is enough, even if it is less than the original institutions might do. Or, it might be that this passing off of responsibility is little more than a marketing tool for Google and a cost-cutting tool for IT managers.
I’m not 100% sure what happened and what the consequences were related to the Buzz fiasco that happened two weeks ago. However, as I understand it and please correct me if I’m wrong, individuals were signed up … without their permission even being asked … to a system where by they could share social networking space with others. The “others” were initially set as those with whom they had most of their correspondence via gmail. So this is a major change in the relationship between software and function being carried out without the option of opting out even being given. In this case, part of the functionality that is changing has to do with the use and visibility of data, and not just which software does what and when on your private desktop or laptop computer.
So imagine the following scenario. You are working at a Major University. You are in Student Services, and the people with whom you communicate most frequently are students who are having mental health issues, or any of a set of behavioral or social issues. So if a person is depressed, he’s part of your case load. A person attempts suicide, part of your caseload. Being stalked, on probation, recently raped, recently assaulted, known sex offender, etc. etc. For any given month, most of your emails consist of standard notices and documents you send to these students, and to a lesser extent, conversations back and forth with these students.
So if Google Buzz goes into your account and unilaterally makes a “social network” of you and all of your “friends,” and if your University uses Google as it’s base IT service, and Google Buzz is allowed to operate across this domain, then most of the students you deal with most … the rapists and the raped, those having legal or personal or social issues, people who are very threatened, people who are threatening, all get to see each other’s names on a list of “friends.”
Twenty years of privacy law and millions of dollars of privacy related system implementation erased in a few milliseconds. If this scenario was repeated across several institutions, many lives would be ruined, some perhaps lost. Because the consequences of changing the relationship between software and function per user were not considered. Indeed, entirely new software (the Buzz in this case) was deployed without permission.
I do not know if Google Buzz operated or defaulted across non-gmail domains, but there certainly are scenarios like the one I just described that do operate entirely within gmail.com whereby this could happen, and in fact that has happened to me in a physically small but important way. I have numerous friends and colleagues right now who are being stalked or harassed to varying degrees and in one way or another on the internet, and where I am involved in some way (usually little more than lending moral support, but sometimes more intensely). I am in regular touch with these people, as well as other interested parties, and in one case, I’m in contact with the stalked and the actual stalker. There are lawyers and officials involved in one case. Imagine a little social network emerging out of the blue that included this group of people, most of whom who, in fact, using gmail? Holy crap.
Well, that did happen, and the actual stalker went ahead and let me know how helpful Google Buzz has been in providing private information about the stalkee. Just to rub it in. In this case, I’m pretty sure that no information not otherwise available was passed on, but I can’t be sure. Felons are rarely forthcoming about these things.
The “Oh, I’m going to become your default browser now, fuck you if you’ve got a problem with that” is Microsoft-like behavior and it demonstrates a corporate-level disdain for the user that I had not seen in Google before. Having a program like the Buzz social networking proceed in the way it has demonstrates something else. Utter, unmitigated, astonishing ignorance. Or at least, I can think of no other explanation for it.
So Google is Evil, starting now. Too bad.