Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to Make the Mobile Web Not Suck

Back when the Internet was primarily controlled by AOL, it sucked. (Yes, I know AOL didn't "own" the Internet, they were simply the biggest ISP). There was limited consumer choice and the playing field was tilted towards AOL's services.

Nowadays, AOL is barely still in business and the Internet is much more powerful than it used to be. It is an open playing field, which is why Net Neutrality is so important to keep that level playing field open.

The exact same thing is happening with the Internet on mobile devices (mainly cell phones), with the mobile carriers becoming the new AOL. An article over at Read/Write Web takes a look at the current situation.

The mobile carriers claim that they have invested billions in their networks and shouldn't be forced to "open them up", but their assertions entirely miss the mark.

They conveniently ignore the fact that both consumers and Internet companies are paying for bandwidth, which makes Ed Whitacre's comments about Internet companies using "his pipes for free" downright silly.

The carriers' claims that they need to recoup their investment in their networks is simply a diversion from the fact that they want to exert their dominance over the mobile web to extract extortion payments for Internet companies that wish to provide service to their customers on-the-go. They want to "double-dip" and charge for the same bandwidth twice, by forcing both the consumer and the Internet company to pay for the same bandwidth whilst the Internet company is already paying for bandwidth on their end.

The prices for mobile bandwidth are already so absurd that claiming they need more money to recoup their investments is downright silly. Perhaps if they can't make back their money by charging $30 for a measly 4MB of bandwidth per month (some of my emails are bigger than that!) they shouldn't be in the mobile Internet business?

Skype has filed a complaint with the FCC. Some excerpts from the linked article:

"Carriers are using their considerable influence over handset design and usage to maintain control over and limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing," Skype told the FCC.

In its filing, Skype said carriers go to great lengths to keep cellphone users boxed in. "In an effort to prefer their own affiliated services and exclude rivals, carriers have disabled or crippled consumer-friendly features of mobile devices." Carriers deny Skype's charges.

Skype says these practices violate longstanding FCC rules that allow consumers to use any device to connect to the U.S. phone network. The only caveat: The device can't cause damage to the phone system.


"As soon as you launch [Skype], you immediately violate the terms of your (cellphone) service contract," says Chris Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs.
Verizon responded with a straw-man argument about the conflicting wireless standards (CDMA and GSM) that prevent the implementation of Skype's proposal. While that may prevent providing unlocked cell phones for multiple carriers, Verizon doesn't explain how these conflicting standards (which are also a pain for customers) prevent the implementation of fair consumer access to the mobile web. Working for a telecom myself, I know of absolutely no way the wireless standard a cellular network uses affects wireless network neutrality.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yahoo Aids Torture and then Condemns It

Yahoo has now decided to valiantly take on 2 roles, both an enabler of torture through their voluntary participation with the Chinese government in conducting a surveillance operation, and also being a vocal critic of the Chinese government's practices. Now I may be no expert in aiding the imprisonment and torture of Chinese dissidents, but to me these 2 roles seem somewhat contradictory.

Of course, once you realize that this condemnation of Chinese policies that Yahoo happily takes part in due to their selfish business interests (that take precedent over basic humanity) is merely PR speak to shift blame from one culpable party to another, it doesn't seem all that contradictory.

I wish Terry Semel and his crew would step off it at Yahoo. This press release is obvious BS to anyone with half a brain.

My Thoughts on Edwards@Google

I recently posted a video about Senator John Edwards speaking at Google. I'm just finally getting around to watching the video, and I'll admit that John Edwards is the candidate who's views are most closely aligned with mine.

He agrees with me that America should become more involved in the situation in Sudan. He agrees that the Internet needs to be protected so that it can continue to be used to level the political playing field and open up the government (the same thing is true in Canada as well).

You can tell he is left-wing but not a radical. Considering the damage Bush has done, perhaps it is time for a liberal?

Watching Eyes Search Being...Weird

The custom search engine I've integrated into this blog is acting up. It is pulling most of the content from my sidebars instead of the articles, which makes it practically useless. I'll try seeing if there is any way I can fix it, but for now, you may just want to avoid using it.

Stats Are Not Creative and Should Not Be Copyrightable or Protectable

It all started last year, when sued Major League Baseball because MLB had threatened for violating players' right-of-publicity by exploiting stats that belong to MLB. They argued that a players stats received more publicity than their faces, so their stats were protectable.

Of course, this position sports (pardon the pun) lots of First Amendment issues. argued that newspapers regularly republished this information, and MLB (whom, like, runs a fantasy-sports-league) was merely targeting a competitor. won the lawsuit, with Judge Mary Ann Medler ruling that the First Amendment trumps right-of-publicity laws. Predictably, MLB appealed the ruling, arguing that reprinting stats is the same as taking someone's picture and putting it on posters and coffee mugs.

There is a major problem with that argument. Everyone who would want to participate in a Fantasy Sports League already knows the names of the players, as Judge Morris Arnold points out. CDM has built their business not on using players as publicity, but on providing a valuable service based on public information.

FTC Begins Investigation Into Online Consolidation

The FTC has begun an investigation not only just into Google now, but into online consolidation as a whole. This is an excellent development, because it means that this is not merely the FTC deciding to regulate a single company, but taking a look at the industry as a whole.

 While the FTC investigation into Google is more extensive than the investigations into Microsoft and Yahoo, primarily due to privacy issues as well as antitrust ones, it is good to see that someone is seeing whether all this consolidation that is occurring is actually a good thing for the consumer.

Microsoft sure did get more than it bargained for when it complained about the Google deal to the government though!

Lawyer Hates Free Speech and Doesn't Know the Law

One of the great things about the Internet is the rise of the "prosumer", as pointed out in this video.

Information about products and services flows freely online. In the space of 10 minutes, you can post your thoughts on a product and it can be read by 10 thousand people. I think of this as word of mouth on steroids.

There has been a big backlash against this new form of information sharing. The latest is a lawsuit filed against a lawyer-ratings service. Essentially, some (most?) lawyers don't want to follow the path the rest of the world's industries have been taking (mostly by force of course), one of consumer empowerment.

The suit claims that Avvo's methods of ranking lawyers are deceptive, however, the suit is still an attack on Avvo's right of free speech. Avvo is not publishing false statements, and it explicitly states how it ranks lawyers. There has been no allegation of Avvo manually altering rankings to slander or defame lawyers.

Essentially, these lawyers want to shut down a data aggregation service because ignorant consumers work better in conjunction with their business model.

2 Monopolies Duke It Out

I generally root for the little guy in antitrust complaints (assuming their claims are valid of course), but I also enjoy watching two massive monopolies or near-monopolies duke it out over antitrust issues.

Google is now complaining because Microsoft is bundling Windows Search with their Windows product. Of course, Google fails to mention that Microsoft has been shipping a poorer, but still present version of Windows Search for years.

Antitrust law is intended to protect competition, not individual competitors! Microsoft is not bundling disparate products together here like they did with Internet Explorer and Windows in the late 90's. Windows has always had desktop search, they've merely improved it. Unlike web browsers, searching for files has always been an integral function of a desktop operating system and placing false limitations on the improvement of that function merely because Google decided to enter a market based almost entirely on the weakness of a core Windows function is absurd. This is about as stupid as Anti-virus vendors getting mad because Microsoft is adding anti-virus functionality to Windows (something that is definitely much needed, not anti-competitive). Apple's Mac OS X has for over 2 years now included similar search functionality. And last but not least, Microsoft announced that search would be part of Vista before Google ever announced or released Google Desktop.

I run a Mac primarily, so this complaint seems exceptionally odd considering that the Mac version of Google Desktop not only runs side-by-side with Apple's Spotlight desktop search technology, but also utilizes it and adds value to it. Why can the Windows version of Google Desktop not do the same? Many people would still find value in the product if it added Gmail and Google Docs support over normal searching for instance, which is what it does on the Mac.

While I often root for the victims of monopoly abuse, I don't think this is the case here. It looks to me more like sour grapes and a diversion over the much more serious antitrust concern over Google's purchase of Doubleclick.

While that complaint is also being pursued by 2 massive corporations, both of which have colorful antitrust histories, the complaint seems much more valid to me than Google's concerns with Windows Desktop Search.

Unlike Desktop Search, ad networks are products that are paid for and serve a purpose. Google Desktop Search was merely produced to exploit a weakness in Windows XP, one that was fixed (not added) in Windows Vista. Google also has a massive footprint in the online advertising market, one that it expanded greatly when it acquired Doubleclick.

Personally, I think the government should continue keeping a close eye on Microsoft and begin to do so on Google. Both companies are big enough and powerful enough that they both warrant antitrust monitoring. Google trying to paint Microsoft with an antitrust brush, and vice versa, is laughable at best.

Hilarious Yet Insightful Article on Sicko and Movie Piracy

Link here

I note with some amusement that the reporters who are supposed to be bringing us the latest news are often desperately behind the times. I find it surprising that the old media still has so much trouble figuring out why there is a steady trickle of people switching from old media to new collaborative media.

Neat Futuristic Video on the New Media

Some of the predictions are pretty out there, but otherwise a very cool and well-done video.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Judge Forces Disclosure of National Security Letter Data

The FBI can currently compel production of information on American civilians through the use of a "National Security Letter". This allows the FBI to skip the judicial side of things such as a subpoena and go straight to the source with few protections.

Worse yet, recipients of a National Security Letter are placed under an immediate gag order. They are to absolutely not speak to anyone about the NSL, or even mention it exists. This means that a company that provides you services would be prohibited from telling you that your information is being produced. Further, due to the Patriot Act, NSL's can be issued for people who aren't even suspected of a crime!

The Justice Department originally noted in a report that there had been abuse of NSL's by the FBI. The Electronic Frontier Foundation then filed a Freedom of Information request for data to be turned over, which was ignored. The EFF then filed the lawsuit which led to this ruling.

The thought of multiple government agencies all spying on American citizens with no judicial oversight and seemingly unending immunity scares me. It'll be interesting to see what the full extent of these abuses was (and is) when the letters are made available.

Amended Complaint By Victims of Torture Against Yahoo!

I read the recent complaint in the litigation by Chinese victims of torture at the hands of the PRC government, and I think it provides a perfect example of the danger that vast amounts of mined data can cause when collected by companies like Google and Yahoo!

It's also particularly dangerous that China is using its control over its economy, and access thereto, to force foreign corporations to a level of conformity with their laws. By foreign corporations, I don't mean Yahoo! China, but Microsoft. Microsoft recently censored a blog hosted on the US version of MSN Spaces, on servers not inside of China, but instead the United States.

The complaint takes Yahoo!, Yahoo! China Holdings, and Alibaba (Yahoo's strategic business partner in China) to task over its voluntary level of complicity with the Chinese government and assets 12 causes of action against Yahoo:

  1. Torture
  2. Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment
  3. Arbitrary Arrest and Prolonged Detention
  4. Forced Labor
  5. Battery
  6. Assault
  7. False Imprisonment
  8. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
  9. Negligence
  10. Violation of the California Business & Professional Code
  11. Violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act

The complaint begins by detailing Yahoo's signing of the voluntary agreement with the government, and points out that numerous human rights groups at the time expressed concern over Yahoo's actions, saying it could eventually lead to precisely what happened in 2005 that this case is a result of.

They accuse Yahoo! of being complicit in their arrest, torture and other human rights abuses, and being directly responsible.

The first plaintiff, Wang Xiaoning, was arrested after Yahoo! notified authorities that he was "anonymously" sending out pro-democracy emails. His computers were then seized,and a month later he was "beaten and kicked". The prison guards encouraged other prisoners to use "psychological tactics" so that he would confess and receive "punishment for his writings". He was often not permitted to go outside, and he was kept inside so long he developed respiratory problems.

The court tried him on charges of "incitement to subvert state power" and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2 additional years of political rights deprivation.

The Chinese court specifically mentioned Yahoo! as being "instrumental" in the arrest of Wang Xianong.

Wang was threatened that if he appealed the ruling, his privileges would be revoked. Wang appealed anyways, and lost on this appeal and on another appeal filed through his wife later.

"Beijing Municipal No. 2 Prison... is a secretive, high-security forced labor prison where serious and "special control" prisoners are held... He is held in a cell with nine other inmates and subjected to malnourishment. ... deny Wang any access to recreation or even sunlight for weeks and even months at a time.... refused to allow Wang to see his mother before her death.... his wife allowed to see him at most for only one half hour per month.

The second plaintiff, Yu Ling, the wife of the first plaintiff, has experienced "continued police surveillance" and people coming to visit her are required to register their names, which caused her friends and family to no longer contact her.

Shi Tao is the third plaintiff, and he wrote numerous political commentaries calling for democratic reform". He leaked a government document detailing severe restrictions on media rights and government crackdowns for the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre through the use of a Yahoo! email account.

Yahoo! provided Chinese officials information linking Shi Tao to these so-called "crimes". He was kidnapped in the middle of the street, placed into a van with a hood over his head, and transported thousands of miles away.

Survivors of the prison he was held at describe being chained for weeks at a time, sometimes to a door plank. They were not allowed family visitors.

His attorney then had his credentials yanked by the Chinese Government, and subsequently was placed under house arrest. A lawyer was put in place for Shi Tao that entered a guilty plea on his behalf without permission.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a prison where inmates regularly work 16 hour days. Prisoners are often denied sleep and forced to work late into the night under bright lights... lights bright enough to sometimes cause blindness. Workshops are run by violent inmates whom intimidate the remaining prisoners.

After reading through this complaint, it makes me sick to think that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq allegedly in part to "promote freedom in Iraq", while US corporations are participating in atrocities committed over-seas.

Unfortunately, there is a chance that Yahoo! may be able to wiggle out of this due to some legal loop hole. Let's just hope that doesn't happen. Western corporations need to be held accountable for their actions overseas, of which Yahoo's are but 10 fish in an entire sea.

Good Ars Article on "War Czar" Crap

Link here.

Are Canadians Evil Pirates or Not, Make Up Your Mind

Michael Geist is reporting on his blog that the MPAA, in a confidential memo, named Canada as its fastest growing market, with far stronger growth than the United States. Canada increased the market by 23%, versus the US' 10%.

And this comes after all the brouhaha over camcording legislation because Canada was a "haven for pirates". There are 2 explanations for this:

  1. Hollywood's claims about movie piracy in Canada were greatly exaggerated
  2. The rampant piracy in Canada increases sales

While I do believe that in many cases piracy does help increase sales, I'm going to have to put my money on 1 for this one.

Patenting a Button

Once again, an example of a patent not advancing the arts and sciences, as they are supposed to.

eBay implemented a feature on their site, one I have used many times, called "Buy it Now". This, if enabled by a seller, allows you to do just what it says, skip the auction and buy it right away.

MercExchange filed a patent infringement lawsuit against eBay, and won that suit, although they failed to get an injunction against eBay.

I fail to see how something as simple as Buy it Now could be patented. That is patenting an idea, something that should not be happening under the law or common sense.

One....Two....No, a Hundred Special Interest Groups!

(Yes, my title is a hyperbole)

I've just read about yet another "Special Interest Group" set up by the RIAA and MPAA (and also backed by the Pharmaceutical Industry, amongst others) that want a new position in the executive branch of law, called an "Intellectual Property Czar"!

Do we really want all 3 branches of government mucking about with intellectual property? The Judicial system already is tasked with enforcing copyright laws, and the Legislative branch of government controls copyright law. Do we, as a people, really need the White House enforcing copyrights belonging to corporations. Isn't there more important things for the White House to be worried that little war going on in Iraq and all.

I disagree with the broad expansion happening with copyright over the last 10 years at the hands of Congress (luckily, Canada has resisted following suit thus far, but with Canada passing into law the anti-camcording legislation, this may not last for long). I disagree that something that should be handled in civil courts more and more often lately is being handled in criminal courts. However, this takes it to a new extreme. This would be the President acting, through a secretary in his cabinet, on behalf of a few massive corporations instead of the people he or she represents.

Techdirt points out the downright inaccurate statements already being made by members of the group, such as:

"Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned. If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year. But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year."

Techdirt notes that even the content industry's own studies don't even claim the number is this high.

Let's hope this doesn't happen. I can't see good things coming of it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bancroft's Considering Selling to Murdoch

I was happy when I first heard that the Bancroft's had rejected News Corp's takeover bid. That happiness went away when I heard that the Bancroft's have now reconsidered, and are meeting with News Corp executives, including Murdoch.

The Bancroft's did however propose that they get to elect a "Journalistic Integrity Enforcement Board". It would be a board that Murdoch would have no power over, so it is doubtful this will be accepted by Murdoch (who is no fan of journalistic integrity).

It would be nice if the Bancroft's stuck to their guns and slowed down the growth of the FOX Expire. However, as always, the almighty dollar will win them over to News Corp's position.

Is Google Hostile to Privacy?

A good story about a recent allegation made against the search giant. I have commented on Google's policies before.

Google was recently rated as the worst offender of privacy on the Internet, with a "hostile to privacy" rating, as opposed to "severe threat to privacy". Before I continue, I must say that "severe threat to" and "hostile to" don't seem that much different to me.

Do I think that Google currently infringes on privacy? Yes. Their data collection and retention periods for their search services is too long I think. (As I've said before, if you are willing to sign up for Google's other services like Gmail, Google kind of has to collect your data). However, I don't think Google is doing this to intentionally violate our privacy. They are using it as an asset.

Which is perhaps worse. Google is going to continue amassing this data, unbeknownst to those who use its search engine. And third-parties are going to continually try to get access to that data, which is what is really scary.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Avoid Torrentspy

A Judge has ordered, one of the Internet's major Torrent Search sites, to begin monitoring and collecting data on its users and which torrents they are downloading. There are many other torrent sites on the Internet, and until something changes, I recommend people avoid

John Edwards Speaks at Google

Haven't watched it yet myself, just found out that this video even existed. Perhaps I'll comment on it after watching it:

No Matter How Wronged You Feel, Act Civil, Or Else...

One of the Defendants in the many file sharing lawsuits filed by the RIAA has now settled with the music industry front-group after abusing the legal system and being sanctioned as a result.

Personally, I think the defendant in this case deserved for this to happen. While the RIAA was pursuing their claims, which in this case involved much stronger evidence than in most of their cases, the defendant filed a motion for sanctions, claiming they were being harassed. The Judge did issue sanctions, but against the defendant.

Luckily for everyone, this case settled, because you wouldn't want case-law over something as important as this litigation being influenced by a sanctioned lawyer who files motions in bad faith.

Also, no matter how right you feel, it is not a good idea to abuse the judicial system by filing frivolous motions. It wastes judicial time, taxpayers' dollars and gains you nothing in the end other than Judges overseeing your case that have no respect for you, so why do it?

Joost Considering Set-Top Box

Joost executives have hinted at releasing a set-top box for their service, dropping hints such as "we can port our software to anything".

This would finally present a formidable competitor to Cable Television once Joost has more quality content (and there is already plenty). As said in an earlier blog post, Joost's lack of a fixed amount of content in a certain timeframe will lower the barrier to entry when it comes to broadcasting to a wide audience. Other technologies such as podcasting will also form competition (but in my opinion this will be to a lesser extent, despite having a leg-up now over Joost due to a much earlier head-start).

In a world where information vital to democracy is primarily controlled by a few media conglomerates that often have ties to political figures, a new video broadcast technology that lowers the barriers is extremely important. With Joost, it would potentially be much cheaper to run for the White House due to not needing as much funding for air time, which would result in more and perhaps better qualified candidates opening up.

Also comes the news that Apple is adding Youtube support to their AppleTV iTunes companion, which not only lowers, but completely blows away the barrier to getting a message out if the AppleTV becomes popular (or until Youtube comes up with more similar partnerships, which is likely).

It would allow small groups without the funding of corporations to get a message out quickly and easily. Lobbying, which I personally have doubts about, would become less effective as messages spread quickly through an interactive TV replacement.

The distribution of information is vital to a democracy, and never before has a tool as powerful as the Internet been available. Let's hope companies like Google and Joost continue to harness that power and wrestle control away from the media conglomerates.

How Exactly is Google Book Search A Bad Thing?

I don't understand what the huge fuss over Google Book Search is really all about. I began thinking about this when a book company exec pulled a stupid prank.

Google Book Search is simply not going to harm publishers, and I think it's ludicrous that the publishers wasted their time filing a lawsuit over this. Unless a publisher gives Google explicit permission, Google will not show more than a line or two of the book. This is obviously free promotion, because people are going to discover the book and possibly purchase it since Google Book Search does not allow them to read it online!

So why exactly was Google sued again? Could it be because they have deep pockets and the Book Companies have decided to try their hand at extortion.

Perhaps I'm a pessimist, but that's what comes to my mind right away.

I'm not going to bother commenting on the linked prank, because it was a stupid thing for the exec to do. Unlike showing 2 lines out of a 1 inch thick book, stealing physical property that may contain proprietary data is a crime.

Wouldn't it be ironic if he had been charged with theft? Of course, I doubt Google would push for that because unlike many other people, including the book publishers, Google's execs have common sense.

Yet Another Blatant Abuse of the Patent System

Once again, the patent system is being blatantly abused. A company is now patenting security patches (which could hardly be called inventive or innovative, because if most of a software company's innovation occurs in security patches, they have a serious problem).

They want researchers to go to them, disclose the vulnerability and the patch, and then they'll patent it and extort money from security vendors.

Once again, the purpose of patents is to encourage innovation and invention. If this is permitted and fast-tracked as Intellectual Weapons, the aptly named company, hopes, then vendors may start to avoid shipping security patches to avoid paying royalties.

So now vendors may have to pay to maintain their own products. The patent system is in desperate need of an overhaul in the United States.

Qualcomm Gets What's Coming To It; Appeals to Bush

Qualcomm, an extremely strong supporter of the Patent System, has now got what's coming to it. A company that supports patents can no longer sell its products in the United States.

While I hate when patents blatantly interfere with the free market, such as in the instant case, it couldn't be more ironic that such a strong supporter of the patent system is the victim.

Qualcomm has now appealed to President Bush to veto the decision, and allow Qualcomm to continue selling its products in the United States. Hopefully Bush vetoes it, but not before Qualcomm loses some money over this dispute and changes its mind about patents.

Second Life Unable to Compel Arbitration

Second Life, the highly popular "virtual world", was recently rebuked by a Judge who refused to enforce an arbitration clause in the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement), saying that that the clause is unconscionable, and therefore unenforceable.

I think that many more terms in Licensing Agreements need to be shot down due to the fact that consumers have no bargaining power with the companies whatsoever. The terms in many licensing agreements restrict peoples' ability to criticize or write about the product without permission, which has absolutely nothing to do with copyright whatsoever.

I'm glad to see that courts are restricting the ability of companies to push unfair licensing terms onto ordinary consumers.

Entering an Agreement But Not Being Able to Read It?

An interesting story is over on Techdirt about Gateway asserting a customer is bound by an agreement he wasn't able to read, even if he had desperately wanted to.

Gateway is attempted to force a customer who couldn't get his broken PC (which wouldn't display anything on the monitor) to work into arbitration because the agreement between them (EULA) contained an arbitration clause. There's only one problem with that theory.

The monitor was broken! Like I said, the customer, wasn't even able to see the agreement! Thankfully, the court sided with the customer and ruled that the customer had compelling evidence proving he had never read the agreement.

This is just another case of a company attempting to stretch EULA's much farther than they legally should be "stretchable".

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Russia Becomes a Patent Troll

This just in! Patent trolling is no longer just restricted to leech companies who don't feel the need to contribute to the economy or society in any meaningful way. Now countries can play a part in this lucrative yet highly unethical market as well.

Russia is now demanding licensing fees for the manufacture and sale of AK-47 firearms.

Never mind the fact that the AK-47 has been around for over 60 years, whereas patent protection in most industrialized nations, including Russia if I'm not mistaken, is limited to 20 years. Also, let's just ignore the fact that it was the Soviet Union, not Russia, that invented this weapon, which would make Russia's claims against former SU member states ridiculous, and probably invalid.

Looks like extorting money when your cash situation is imploding isn't only limited to companies like the SCO Group and Silicon Graphics Inc anymore.

Side-note: I don't support the proliferation of weapons. I'm merely looking at this from an "Intellectual Property" point of view.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Google Being Investigated Over Privacy Concerns

Update: Blogger is being an absolute piece of junk....pieces of this story have gone missing, so parts of it may look rushed. It's because they are.

I've got numerous stories saved in my Google Reader account (oh the irony) regarding pending investigations in the EU regarding Google and privacy concerns. Stories here, here, here and here.

Essentially, the concerns boil down to the EU being concerned about Google retaining search data targeted to specific IP addresses (or users if you use a Google account) for 2 years (the former policy was to retain targeted information indefinitely).

Google's responses to these concerns are unavailing in my opinion.

Their first reason for retaining data is that it improves Google products, and 2 examples are given (monitoring whether the best result that is clicked on most is number 1 in the search results and also monitoring spelling errors to improve Google's spellchecking feature). Neither of these examples require storing IP addresses for any length of time. For both examples, Google could easily use anonymous data to improve their search engine.

The second reason given is that IP addresses are needed to improve security. However (and correct me if I'm wrong) I see no reason that 6 months worth of targeted data would not suffice. If someone is exploiting flaws in Google's services, engaging in click fraud or other forms of attacks, 6 months of data would more than suffice to detect abuse. Working for a technology company myself, most abuse in my experience is detected using current or very recent data, not data that has languished on a server for 2 years.

The third reason is that Google wants to ensure compliance with future laws that have not yet been implemented, and for which compliance is not yet necessary. This excuse is ridiculous and falls flat on its face. Google is under no obligation whatsoever to comply with laws that might be passed in the future. If those laws are passed, it would be perfectly suitable (and necessary) for Google to comply with those laws when they are passed. I personally don't go out of my way to comply with laws that have yet to be passed, and I see no reason for Google to be doing so.

I personally use Google's non-search services such as Blogger (obviously), Gmail and Google Calendar. I went out of my way to make an account and was forced to read through a privacy policy before making use of these services. With this in mind, I think it is perfectly acceptable for Google to hoard my data (they kind of have to in order to provide e-mail services).

However, Google Search does not require you to read a privacy policy. There is little to no indication whatsoever that Google is retaining any data. I, using Google's other services, consented to have my data stored on Google's servers. Regular Google search users did not provide this consent, and I think it is unethical for Google to be hoarding this data for as long as they do.

Also, instead of making up flimsy excuses that don't withstand the powerful forces of common sense, Google should come right out and admit that this data is being retained in order to more accurately target ads to individual users to increase Google's bottom line.

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