… 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.

Comments

  1. #1 Windroot
    February 21, 2010

    I installed Google Chrome when it first came out. Then I realized that it automatically made itself the default browser without asking. I was shocked at the presumptuousness of it all and immediately uninstalled Chrome. I already had 3 browsers (IE,,Opera and Firefox) so why would I want a 4th browser that was gping rogue on me?

    I agree completely with the basic premise. It’s my computer. Don’t change or install something if I don’t asdk you to.

  2. #2 Phillip IV
    February 21, 2010

    I tried out Google Chrome a while ago for two weeks – I was disappointed with the performance, annoyed by the aggressiveness with which it tried to make itself the default browser, and pissed when I finally uninstalled it and it tried to force me to fill out a questionnaire on my reasons for the uninstall.

    It’s a pity Google is headed down that way, but I guess it was almost inevitable. Microsoft is clearly after their turf, and has never shied away from using every advantage at their disposal, completely disregarding user complaints, until stopped by court orders. So on the one hand Google have such a ruthless opponent on their tails, on the other hand they’re sitting on a mountain of valuable user data that could provide them with tremendous leverage…just not if they remain ethical about it. I guess it’s increasingly becoming apparent which option they’ve chosen.

  3. #3 TechSlave
    February 21, 2010

    Not sure if Buzz touched any non-gmail domains. After Buzz was released, I immediately disabled it on all my gmail logins, then checked my Google-hosted non-Gmail domain. No sign, hide nor hair, of Buzz in either user level or administrator level. I breathed a sign of relief that Google wasn’t THAT stupid, to roll contact-sharing out to unsuspecting corporations.

    However, I agree – Google rolled something out with ‘nifty features’ an decided to increase the immediate user-base by forcing opt-out rather than opt-in. Which is th exact reverse of their typical product rollout. And I hope they now have learned WHY opt-out is a bad flipping idea.

    Serious security and privacy failure, I agree.

  4. #4 Dan
    February 21, 2010

    I didn’t remember it taking control of the defaults. So I installed just now on a vmware image – Ubuntu 9.04 32-bit x86 installed from Google’s .deb package.

    On installation it did install itself as the default browser. Upon startup it had an intro box with 3 options (1) send info to google to “improve the browser” (unchecked by default), (2) make Chrome the default browser (unchecked by default), and (3) Import setting from firefox (checked by default, I unchecked it).

    Clearly your experience differed, but it seems to be to be a pretty innocuous install.

    -Dan

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    February 21, 2010

    Dan, I should mention: I have not used Chrome in months. It became the “goto” presumed browser for facebook AND google alterts but NOT the default browser for anything.

    This could easily have been Firefox’s fault, I suppose. Firefoxe somehow removed itself from my system’s thingimigig so it was not known about.

    ‘cept when I remoeved Chrome, without touching anything else, Firefox and everything when back to its normal behavior.

  6. #6 sjburnt
    February 21, 2010

    Obviously you were not one of the chosen people that were tested for the ‘new’ iGoogle page. They crammed that down our throats,then systematically shut down all of the patches to get back to what we had before.

    No evil, my ass. Google is just another corporation.

  7. #7 MadScientist
    February 21, 2010

    Google, Microsoft – it’s really all one big conspiracy. Now when you look at decent software like VirtualBox, it pops up a window to say “Hey, there’s a new version you can install if you feel like borking your computer today!” but there’s also an obvious “go away and don’t ever annoy me again” box. Ignoring Google for the moment – how many times in the past 10 years have MS pushed “patches” without warning and without consent and borked computers used for business? How many times in the same period have all other operating systems combined done the same thing?

  8. #8 MadScientist
    February 21, 2010

    @Windroot: I find google extremely invasive; it is reminiscent of the early (non-free) versions of StarOffice which raped and mutilated your Microsoft desktop (as if MS alone wasn’t bad enough). Unfortunately until I can set up a business email server with off-site backup etc, google provides a convenient place for all non-commercially sensitive email.

  9. #9 AnneTanne
    February 21, 2010

    Strange… I have Chrome installed (although I haven’t used it much… I’m to heavily depending on a few FF add-ons), and never ever did Chrome become the ‘default’ browser on it’s own. (Not through facebook, not by google-alert…)
    Nevertheless… I’m going to uninstall that browser.

  10. #10 Col
    February 21, 2010

    Microsoft updates try and put tons of unwanted bloat.

    XPS writer and viwer
    Silverlight
    .Net this that and the other
    Windows search
    IE8 by default tries to install “accelerators” live this that and the other
    (in)compatibility crap

    Apple give you iTunes with a ton of other shit undisclosed on installation
    Quicktime (optional}
    Bonjour
    Apple software update autoruns and tries to sneak in Safari and anything else they decide you should have.

    Google did go about it the wrong way with Buzz but I think they are a lot less evil than the other two.

  11. #11 Rick Pikul
    February 21, 2010

    It too you this long to find out Google was evil?

    Those of us using Usenet have known it for years. Given the massive amount of spam that comes through Google, and how little they did about it and other forms of net abuse, it was rather obvious.

  12. #12 Chris Evans
    February 21, 2010

    Interesting! I’m also a Chrome on Linux user. I flip around between browsers a lot, and I’ve never seen any browser install itself as the default without first asking the user. The browser makers learned (long ago) not to play any tricks in this area.

    Therefore — to use a variation on the classic — I wouldn’t attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by a weird system interaction.

    Did you take an update to either Chrome, Firefox or your desktop packages? Any one of these could have thrown off the delicate ordering of the list of handlers for the .html MIME type. I doubt very much it was intentional. Declaring evil before getting to the root cause of this seems a little unscientific.

  13. #13 Crudely Wrott
    February 21, 2010

    I consider my connection to the InnerTubes to be like my connection to city water, or the power company. Those parts of the connection that are physically outside the walls of my house belong to the service provider. Those parts physically inside are mine. They have the obligation and the right to maintain the parts outside and insure that they are functional. Within my walls I have the obligation and the right to arrange things as I see fit. If they intrude into my domain I have the ability to uninstall their software and block them from my computer and I have the right to insist that they keep their distance unless invited. I neither expect nor demand more or less. If I want my InnerTube experience to be enhanced I’ll do it myself.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    February 21, 2010

    Chris, the cause of the change in default browser was almost certainly a glitch. The reveal of private information among potential litigants in stalking and harassment scenarios, and all the other bad things that potentially could happen (or potentially did happen) is not excusable as a mistake, even if it was. It would be the kind of mistake that a larger smart corporation like Google that markets itself as the “don’t be evil” company should not allow to happen!

    I’m sure there was a firefox update, but I’m not sure about t he other software.

  15. #15 Crudely Wrott
    February 21, 2010

    Whoops, strike penultimate sentence.

    I was most likely distracted by something but I’ll be damned if I recall what it was.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    February 21, 2010

    Crude, I agree, essentially, but imagine this scenario: You’ve tried different water companies (becuase in your neighborhood, for some reason, you have a choice) and one of sent storm troopers into your home and they installed ugly kitchen fixtures.

    So you fire them and get the other water company to serve you,but then a few weeks later you happen to be at a public hearing and find out that the first water company … the one you fired … is looking for an exclusive contract in your area.

    It would be appropriate, I think, for your strategy to also include the part about making a strong statement at the public hearing about how potentially nefarious this particular water company can be.

    Of course, I’m not sure how any of this metaphor works with browsers, and the GO USA country western compulsory dance component of the ice dancing that I just witnessed fried my brain.

    I don’t know why I couldn’t look away… I should have …. looked. Away……

  17. #17 Crudely Wrott
    February 21, 2010

    You are right in pointing out that any provider of a service may not be up to snuff. That’s where the market is supposed to do its magic. Provided there are at least two or more providers for a given service. That’s why places that have only one source for needful things can run out of them from time to time. Like Venezuela and electricity.

    Take care of that leg, Greg. You’ll probably need it before long.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    February 21, 2010

    I wonder what would actually happen if, in a major US community (like, eg. the greater Las Vegas area or Northern Illinois or something) ran out of water, so when you turn on the tap, nothing comes out most of the time.

  19. #19 David
    February 21, 2010

    In over four years of using OS X I have not suffered a single instance of auto run software installation from Apple. I’m up to date on the system (10.5x) by choice and lagging behind on other components, by choice. I’m no genius.

  20. #20 Crudely Wrott
    February 21, 2010

    If the demands of an increasing population continue places like Las Vegas might be close to going dry. I have heard that the city is placing such a demand on locally available water supplies that they are looking hundreds of miles to the north to slake their thirst. So it is not unreasonable to expect to find out first hand what would happen to a densely populated area deprived of a basic need sometime while we are still alive to take note. I’m sure it will be instructive. And that much fur will fly.

    An interesting exercise would be to calculate the number of homes that could be supplied with water from just the evaporation that occurs daily in Las Vegas. The coolest fountains are the most wasteful, wouldn’t you know?

  21. #21 Katherine
    February 21, 2010

    I love how everyone is focussed on refuting the LESS EVIL point that chrome was doing something screwy, while failing to mention the MUCH GREATER EVIL point that Buzz screwed with everyone’s privacy in the worst possible way. It isn’t enough to fix it after the fact; who knows how many restraining orders Google just broke? I know I’ll be switching away from Gmail as soon as I have my own stable ISP.

  22. #22 William
    February 21, 2010

    I don’t know, Google has always served me well. In my opinion mistakes don’t make a company evil. How they handle the mistakes has much more weight.

    In addition, Google is a work in progress. Anyone that would prefer to live without the innovations they come up with should do that. Me, I think they should slap the beta symbol back on all their products, and take a few chances now and again to make things better.

  23. #23 Crudely Wrott
    February 21, 2010

    There will always be a need to resist the assurances offered by the vendors of goods and services.

    Those old enough to remember the oft-used selling point “Use once, throw away” are justified in asking just exactly where “away” is.

    Some have just gotten out of the habit. And out of the habit of ensuring their own privacy out here in the wilderness of the interlocked tubes. Others are still learning. It doesn’t help that companies like Google assume that because some people like to make noise at each other everyone does.

    I like the silences between the treasures as much as treasures themselves.

    If Google wishes to do no harm they merely need to learn to ask first. Child’s wisdom, really.

  24. #24 Tangaroa
    February 22, 2010

    Other recently seen examples:

    I use Sumatra as my PDF reader but keep Adobe Acrobat Reader around in case there is something Sumatra cannot read. Adobe’s security patches steal the default-app setting and reactivate the Firefox plugin that I had manually disabled. There are a lot of Adobe security patches. I am thinking of removing it entirely because it’s such a PITA.

    Microsoft IE brings up a Bing Toolbar installation window with “Next” and “OK” buttons but no cancel or close button. Along with being user-hostile, this is a classic antitrust law violation given that Microsoft is leveraging its power in one market to advance its product in another.

  25. #25 Paul Murray
    February 22, 2010

    I wanted to install this google 3d CAD package on my apple. First thing that happens? “Please type in an admin password”

    Hell no. NFW. Not in a million years. If it can’t happily run from /Users/foo/Applications, where “foo” is a non-admin account, then it won’t be running on my Apple. Why does CAD app need root access?

    No way.

  26. #26 MPL
    February 22, 2010

    The weird part about how Microsoft and Google have been acting, it’s all so tangential to the money.

    How does Microsoft make money? Office, and OEM operating system installs. Everything else is a distraction, or even a money-loser. Office is even mostly non-evil. The only complaints I have about it is that it isn’t Emacs/TeX, and its users, neither of which are Microsoft’s fault.

    How does Google make money? Ads on search pages, ads on web pages, and ads in Gmail. Everything else is a distraction. Nobody makes money off of social networks, why do they even want one?

    I tried to scour Buzz out of my gmail, because I’m an social-networking-software conscientious objector. I like friends, not “friends”.

  27. #27 Azkyroth
    February 22, 2010

    Office is even mostly non-evil.

    2007 includes these hideous things they call “ribbon menus” or something like that, and they sell a $25 or so add-on that restores actual MENU functionality.

  28. #28 Equisetum
    February 22, 2010

    Epic has filed a complaint with the FTC urging them to investigate Google Buzz. More info here.

    Their implementation was definitely evil.

  29. #29 MPL
    February 22, 2010

    @27.

    I had to use ribbon menus at work. I wouldn’t call them evil, just “suck”. This is a situation where stupidity can’t be confused for malice.

    Selling the fix for $25 is evil though, yeah.

    The worst part is I was using the sharing articles feature in Google Reader (for me and the two other people I knew who used it). I am seriously considering turning it off now, since it’s linked into the whole Buzz thing. How vexing.

  30. #30 Azkyroth
    February 22, 2010

    I had to use ribbon menus at work. I wouldn’t call them evil, just “suck”. This is a situation where stupidity can’t be confused for malice.

    Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

  31. #31 pik
    February 22, 2010

    “Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.”

    I have to take serious exception to that, for the simple reason that all of us – individuals, corporations, everybody – has made mistakes, and some of them have been pretty serious. Think of the worst mistakes you ever made. Chances are that you didn’t intend to do any harm. The mere fact that it was a big mistake, even if you add on “you should have known better”, hardly creates malicious intent. Malice is intentional harm, period.

    Not that I am excusing Google for anything that they’ve done, but I do agree with William #22 that the handling of the mistake is far more important than the mistake itself. Mistakes are universally inevitable. Awfully easy to forget that when the mistake has serious negative repercussions, such as the breach of trust or the loss of personal data; but that doesn’t make it any more than a really, really, REALLY big mistake. How will they handle this? I will be keeping a close eye on this one.

    BTW, I have Chrome installed as a backup browser. I was given the same three options as Dan #4, and gave the same answers. Chrome never forced itself to become the default browser.

  32. #32 case
    February 22, 2010

    I think there’s a big difference between annoying stuff and evil stuff. Installing Bloatware that you can (in many cases) remove later on might have been the height of evilness a few years ago, but it doesn’t really register very high on my personal outrage meter these days.
    What does, on the other hand, is stuff like the Buzz fiasco. And that is only the latest in a whole string of Google missteps, to put it mildly. I recall for example how the first Android phones wouldn’t work without a GMail account, or how Google’s Schmidt said that if “you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”.
    At the end of the day, everyone has to decide on their own priorities. Privacy is high on my list, which is why I never even looked at Android devices when getting a new smartphone a couple months ago, and went with Windows Mobile instead. The lesser of two evils, and all that …

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    February 22, 2010

    case: “Google’s Schmidt said that if “you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”.”

    Exactly, and that is part of the point here. I thought about that when I first heard about this issue, and thought what things I should not be doing would people learn about by seeing a contact list based on my emailing patterns, and I couldn’t really think of anything. But I could think of theoretical possibilities, and there would have been room for a thought like this (but I decided not to blame the victim as Mr. Google apparently likes to do).

    Then, later, I thought about it further and realized that professional cross-linking itself is an issue. Then, the advisor or councilor issue came up.

    It would not be legal for a lawyer to provide a list of client’s email addresses or names to an arbitrary person. In a way, this is Google forcing innocent (or not) bystanders to commit crimes. To hear this blaming the victim comment really burns me.

    So is that the same exact guy who said “Don’t be evil” who also said “privacy is not important because I’ve decided that you deserve whatever bad shit happens to you if your privacy is violated?”

    Huh. “Don’t be evil” is a rather empty phrase if the mind behind it is empty of thoughtful guiding philosophy.

  34. #34 nick
    February 22, 2010

    1) u can choose not to select use Google chrome as my default browser when installing.. it’s not that hard. u can choose not to use buzz.. it’s not that hard.. i choose to use chrome on both my windows and Linux machine, even though i have Firefox and opera installed, and that is because i had knowingly selected the check-box that said use Google chrome as your default browser, just like Firefox, opera, and safari do.. certainly much better than IE!! I also knowingly use Google Buzz fully aware of the consequences. Want evil? Go after Microsoft, Apple, and the thousands of other companies that are ripping you off.. and another thing: next time, research your article before publishing it, unless you want people to call you “evil”

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    February 22, 2010

    Nick, selecting from your email contacts list and making that information public was turned ON by DEFAULT. There is no version of the universe in which that is not a very very bad thing. Google has acknowledged this and said they felt kinda bad about it and are fixing it.

    Before you troll my site about how bad I am to poor little google and how I should instead focus on Microsoft why don’t you try looking around a little!

    Oh never mind, just click here.

  36. #36 PA Wedding Photographer
    February 22, 2010

    Is Google Evil? I have debated amongst friends that Google has plans to take over the world. From a web development standpoint, they are a must use due to the cost savings and functionality. Google Analytics is free web site tracking software. It keeps track of visitor details and page views, etc. Google Web Development tools – free tool to submit site maps, receive indexing reports, etc. Google Ad Sense – free to have outside advertising on your site where you share profits with Google. Google Ad Words – Pay Per Click Ad software – this is where Google makes all of their money. Let’s not even talk about Google Ad Manager – which is a free tool which allows you to post your own ads. These are all daily tools in my life. It is only a matter of time before Google has everyone on their systems.

  37. #37 elgoog
    February 23, 2010

    PREVIOUS COMMENT APPROVED BY GOOGLE

  38. #38 Gruesome Rob
    February 23, 2010

    Interestingly, on my system Chrome can’t even tell what the default browser is (Vista x64), and I don’t want to try clicking the make default, since I don’t want that.

    I’ve quit using Chrome, but for a different reason – the adblocking isn’t up to snuff. Unlike the Firefox ones, these only seem to hide things and don’t stop connections to domains I don’t even want contacted (double click, google analytics)

  39. #39 Eric Hines
    February 23, 2010

    I use Chrome quite regularly on someone else’s laptop–she hardly knows it’s there–it’s not the default and doesn’t open automatically for any kind of outside link . . . always been that way.

    Have had computers do inexplicable things in the past though . . . I wonder if a facebook app might have done it?

    Google is a corporation. I have no intention of taking their mantra seriously. I’ll use their stuff so long as it is useful to me and I won’t become emotional about my relationship with a corporate, profit-driven entity. Period.

    Perhaps we should be less concerned with Google’s mantra and more concerned with what ought to be the tech-consumer motto: Don’t fall in/out of love with corporations & their products. These are business relationships.

  40. #40 Paladin
    February 24, 2010

    I’ve seen this somewhere a few month ago, sums up the problem pretty well:

    “Any corporation powerful enough is indistinguishable from evil.”

  41. #41 Natalie
    March 3, 2010

    Bizarre… I have Chrome installed on my Macbook and almost never use it (as my default is FireFox). While I did have it set as my default browser, a while ago, I switched it back to FF, and I have had no similar issues, since…

  42. #42 Bill James
    March 3, 2010

    From Google, to Google Inc, to Google Corp, when a company becomes omnipresent it also becomes omnipotent and Google has crossed that threshold. “Don’t be evil” is an increasingly hollow slogan for this peoples champion in a clash of titans. Within worlds defined by market share, leverage, profit and loss, the term becomes a non-sequitur. It’s money that matters. The peoples hope is that Google in their transmogrification maintains a position of lesser evil. To be more trustworthy in an untrusted realm as it might be considered, such is comforts found within hand quilted blankets of belief.

    So is Google evil? The infamous words ‘never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence” comes to mind. I would add naiveté but only in part. When Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the company “do no evil” was a founding principle and so too a mantra chanted in righteousness by those in their employ, but what is evil if other than a relational construction? In Borg fights the lines blur. Google may not be intentionally evil but for the power the company now wields, we find they certainly can be dangerous with recent events indicating Google not having the firmest grip on the technological behemoth of their own creation.

    The China debacle is one case with international ramifications due primarily Googles lack of security consciousness. One of the first phone calls Google made upon discovery of the breach went to the National Security Agency. Google now has an agreement with the NSA in furtherance of their working arrangement which I well imagine pleases the NSA greatly since Google represents one enormous intelligence gathering data pile. For Googles part they switched to SSL encrypted G-mail logins and presumably for other accounts as well. The curious point is Google needing the NSA to tell them this, as in Google didn’t know? Or didn’t care? Given that encryption is computationally expensive we can deduce the mindset of a company who plays fast and loose when we spelunk their resultant HTML and find things like closing tags by their absence due byte savings all such provides.

    Then there was the Google Buzz imbroglio with Google taken back by the concept that everyone may not want to share everything with everybody else by default. Such was their thinking and a pervasive thought process it is. Google is in the information gathering, storage, slicing, dicing and dissemination business. They make Billions not simply indexing the web, but tracking users online movement and habits for among other things, targeted advertising but moreover providing primo business intelligence wholesale which they do with model efficiency. Not willing to rest on their laurels, Google is hyperactive in expanding their data gathering mechanisms with the prime resource for mining being Google users. Free applications are simply a lure. See also: cloud computing.

    Now then, having said all that, allow me to relate my latest observation. My client base is primarily small and medium business which near universally use Quickbooks for accounting and payroll. On recent occasion I updated one such company — a daycare as it were — to the latest version and noticed in so doing that the computer was running much slower than normal. Various widgets on screen made plain the accounting and payroll computer was running the Yahoo! desktop which I don’t advise but people do like to personalize their workstations. Actually I used to raise bloody hell but have backed off knowing the pervasive and often accidental nature with which such things can be acquired and simply clean the machines when found. I made arrangements to bench the computer over the weekend.

    Stripping off the Yahoo! desktop and toolbars I found the Google desktop underneath and part of the Google desktop is Google Desktop Search for which a plugin had been provided to access, index and thereby make search-able… the Quickbooks database. Now realize what information can reside (and in this case does) in such a store. Names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, tax ID’s, pay rates, hours worked, bank accounts for electronic deposits and withdrawls et al; and basic information on all the childrens parents, including number of children enrolled (and their names) as required for general bookkeeping. I was not amused. A Google search on this plugin led me back to Intuit, the parent company of Quickbooks. Intuit, who had an entire self help section on using Google Search born from an alliance struck between the companies stretching back to 2006. Did I forget this? Apparently.

    Now comes the questions. Is this wise? I’m not going to insinuate that Google is exploiting the company database but certainly the potential is there is it not? If not today maybe tomorrow? And where is the head of Intuit? It’s not like Quickbooks doesn’t have search of their own for they have had that since day one. For some marketing alliance they risk the trust of their clients by installing an internet enabled data access mechanism from Google who promises to “Do no evil?” What about nefarious third parties? And if there was a data breach, would we know it? Of all the questions that could be asked, these are but a few off the top of my head but does it not stand in example of Google, Intuit and their jelly headed thinking?

    I removed the Google Desktop and the integrated search function. Of course I don’t know if it is really gone just because it says it uninstalled and there is no visible evidence remaining. I’m not chasing this any further than I already have but I am pondering the suggestion of disconnecting the Accounting and Payroll computer from the internet and updating by CD if that is even possible anymore. There would be pain for the client involved since funds transferred into accounts of various State and Federal tax collection agencies would no longer be automatic. Ultimately it will be the clients decision and my guess is they will stay with the status quo and sacrifice security for the sake of convenience.

    So is Google evil? Depending on context we can say the company has built an infernal machine and I doubt Google can maintain enough control of the levers in guarantee that it won’t be absorbed in monopolistic self interest or compromised by the heavier handed agencies of nation states. Willingness to participate in the “Great Firewall of China” is enough example of that. Not saying no good will come from all this for certainly competition by wedging into previous cloistered markets is generally viewed as a good thing, but I do wonder about the declining street price of information privacy and security. Google of course being but one significant entity in the greater amalgam and perhaps the more benevolent exploiter in consideration of potential best case upsides. You didn’t think that free stuff was actually free did you?

    For what its worth Microsoft hosed me harder when I updated Live Messenger last month. This after I told it “no” to everything except the simpler update which Microsoft ignored for the most part and screwed Firefox with the addition of two plugins, one of which explicitly designed for difficulty in switching back. Microsoft said this was to protect my choice. No doubt from the rogue elements that would switch me away from the Microsoft ecosystem having been abducted by one of Microsofts rogue elements in the first place. Of course we expect this from Microsoft, business as usual and all that. Barely mentionable otherwise. Not the first time Microsoft took upon itself to enhance Firefox and in one recent case caused that browser to crash. Obviously the Mozilla foundation was pissed and the come back to Internet Explorer because it crashes less campaign came to an abrupt end. An under tested security patch as it were, said the spinners. Or something. Mmmm K?

    How do we explain to noobs that their ass is the prize in a borg war fought over the intertubes?

  43. #43 Jim Short
    March 6, 2010
  44. #44 Shaun @ Virility ex
    July 26, 2010

    In my opinion.. Google is always evil… nothing more then a black art!!

  45. #45 Virility Ex
    October 5, 2010

    Don’t be evil – If only Google would truly live by those words. Google – The world is watching !

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