“Don’t be evil”

This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

Robert Kuttner asks what kind of world we’ll live in after a few decades of Google’s customizable (and completely trackable) universe:

In the era of the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, which allows warrantless police searches that are not even disclosed to the target, Google plus Dick Cheney is a recipe for undoing the liberties for which the original patriots of the American Revolution bled and died. Under the PATRIOT Act, anyone suspected of enabling terrorism can be subjected to these fishing expeditions. Depending on a prosecutor’s whims, that includes all of us…Google’s internal slogan is, charmingly, “Don’t be evil.” Well, the interaction of cyber-snooping and the unreasonable searches authorized by the PATRIOT Act is pure evil.


Update: Maximus responds:

This article seems to be 80% unfounded Googlephobia, 20% legitimate concern. And the concern is about cookies, which are not at all unique to Google. Any site that leaves cookies can do the same things. One can choose not to use cookies, and be denied the functionality they provide, or to delete them periodically.

I see this as a technically underinformed writer expressing/instigating fear of Google based on very slim evidence.

“The Times noted that the evidence had come from the defendant’s home computer, but could just as easily have come from Google.” So his attempt to conflate Google and the PATRIOT Act is completely unfounded.

Joseph of That Brutal Joint also writes in:

Maximus correctly points out that the example from the story refers to Google’s practice of leaving cookies on users’ computers. He also says: “One can choose not to use cookies, and be denied the functionality they provide, or to delete them periodically.” This is true, but most users will never do this. When an Internet service saves this kind of information by default, it seems unrealistic to expect that all users will understand why or how they should turn this feature off.

More importantly, search information is not only archived in cookies on users’ computers, but also on Google’s servers. The search data Google records is linked with user information such as “URL, IP address, browser type and language, and the date and time,” according to Google’s privacy policy. In other words, Google monitors and records who is searching for what. Because this information is stored on Google’s servers, it can be provided to the US or foreign governments.

Although Google is not known to have turned over this kind of information to a government, not all search engines have spotless records. Last year Yahoo cooperated with the Chinese government in their prosecution of a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, by providing IP address information that proved to be crucial to the case; Shi is now in prison serving a ten-year sentence.

As long as this kind of information is collected and stored, search engines like Yahoo and Google are a privacy threat. I agree with Maximus that the article contained some exaggerations, but I think the problem is real.


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