Sunday, May 16, 2010

Google-NSA: The Hypocrites of Censorship and Hacking

If you believed Google's objections to the Chinese government hacking into its sites and censorship laws regulating its search engine's results, you would think this altruistic bunch really cares about privacy and free speech. Of course, like with all large corporations, you would be wrong.

It appears Google is not only filled with government spies (US intelligence spies comprise over 10% of the company's employee pool), but they have been taking your personal information from Wi-fi networks and keeping it. Surely, only for lawful purposes. After all, the NSA has only been cataloging all of our phone calls for the past eight and half years, and spying on our emails, IMs, and other internet activity without so much as a warrant or court order.

Google grabs personal info off of Wi-Fi networks

SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc. has been vacuuming up fragments of people's online activities broadcast over public Wi-Fi networks for the past four years, a breach of Web etiquette likely to raise more privacy worries about the Internet search leader.

Even Google was troubled by its behavior, and issued a public apology Friday. The company said it only recently discovered the problem in response to an inquiry from German regulators.

"Maintaining people's trust is crucial to everything we do, and in this case we fell short," Alan Eustace, Google's top engineering executive, wrote in a blog post.

Google characterized its collection of snippets from e-mails and Web surfing done on public Wi-Fi networks as a mistake, and said it has taken steps to avoid a recurrence. About 600 gigabytes of data was taken off of the Wi-Fi networks in more than 30 countries, including the U.S. Google plans to delete it all as soon as it gains clearance from government authorities.

None of the information has appeared in Google's search engine or other services, according to Eustace.

Nevertheless, Google's decision to hold on to the Wi-Fi data until it hears back from regulators shows the company realizes it could face legal repercussions. At the very least, company officials concede that snooping on Wi-Fi networks, however inadvertent, crossed an ethical line.

"We are acutely aware that we failed badly here," Eustace wrote.

Google's contrition may not be enough to allay growing concerns about whether the company can be trusted with the vast storehouse of personal information that it has gathered through its search engine, e-mail and other services.

Fears that Google is morphing into a real-life version of "Big Brother" has spurred previous privacy complaints, as well as pleas for more stringent regulation of the company.

Consumer Watchdog, a group that has become one of Google's most outspoken critics, renewed its call for a regulatory crackdown Friday.

"Once again, Google has demonstrated a lack of concern for privacy," said Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson. "Its computer engineers run amok, push the envelope and gather whatever data they can until their fingers are caught in the cookie jar."

The Wi-Fi data was sucked up while Google expanded a mapping feature called "Street View" that also has pressed privacy hot buttons. Street View provides photographs of neighborhoods taken by Google cameras that have sometimes captured people doing things they didn't want to be seen doing, or in places where they didn't want to be seen.

As it set out to photograph neighborhoods around the world, Google equipped its vehicles with antenna as well as cameras so it could create a database with the names of Wi-Fi networks and the coding of Wi-Fi routers.

What Google didn't know, Eustace said, is that some experimental software was being used in the Street View project, and that programming picked up the Web surfing on publicly accessible Wi-Fi networks if the company's vehicles were within range of the signal.

Google only gathered small bits of information because its vehicles were on the move and its tracking equipment switched channels five times a second.

The incident has prompted Google to abandon its effort to collect Wi-Fi network data. In an apparent show of its commitment to privacy, Google also said it will introduce a new option next week that will allow its users to encrypt searches on its Web site as an added protection against unauthorized snooping.

They are going to "clear" all of the information they stole once they gain clearance from the government? Does anyone honestly believe our government, which has embedded itself into Google already, will ever give the clearance to delete it? Sure, after the NSA has cataloged all of the information, that is. I am not typically a conspiratorialist, but you would have to be pretty naive to think a government-infiltrated spying agency/company is going to somehow delete that information before making sure the state spies have first crack at that information. Or it could be they already have all of that information, since federal law forces internet providers to allow the NSA to spy on our internet activity anyway.

Why does this not engender greater demonstrations of outrage by people in this country? I have known for the last several months that the company is basically a condom for the NSA, and yet people seem angrier at the thought of Facebook sharing your information to private companies. How about having a spy agency masquerading as a high tech company taking all of your information and possibly using it against you, violating the living daylights out of what remains of your constitutional rights (since this company is a government in everything but name)?

And here I am using their services, to which I have little doubt the company (be it Google or the NSA [or both, since they are probably the same entity at this point]) are keeping tabs on me.
There is something for the teabaggers to get upset about, but alas it appears they are more obsessed over kicking out Latinos and making this a whites-only nation. Protecting privacy is not an issue for them, unless it involves the use of firearms or threatening their use on us if we pass laws they disagree with (not including the ones that allow a government agency to spy on everything you do, in violation of the Fourth Amendment). Using state police to racially target Latinos and government agencies spying on everyone--the kind of big government our so-called 'patriots' see nothing wrong with.

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