the 3-14-06 meeting of the Rocky Mountain
Internet Users Group (RMIUG):
"Google: The New Big Brother?"
Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com)
provides the audio-visual equipment
provides the facility
sponsors these minutes.
RMIUG meetings occur on the 2nd Tuesdays
of odd-numbered months. Email Josh Zapin
with topic and speaker ideas.
July 11: Computer-Human Interaction Special
September: MapQuest VP will be the speaker.
November: Cluetrain Manifesto Revisited
Microstaff has development, analyst, network
positions available. Contact Microstaff
if you're looking.
Boulder Digital Arts (www.boulderdigitalarts.com)
announces classes: Podcasting 101: Introduction
(June 13) and Podcasting 201: Create a Podcast
(June 29). Joe Pezzillo, who has spoken
at RMIUG meetings before, is highly recommended.
Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group
Minutes of the 9 May 2006 meeting, "Google:
The New Big Brother?"
About 40 people attended tonight's meeting.
Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler
recorded the minutes.
Introduction (Josh Zapin)
Everyone uses Google about every day, although
many don't use their analytical services.
Maps, news, and image search are popular.
Does Google have too much market power?
What did we do before Google? There are
some other search engines around that no
one uses anymore. The numbers for Google
are off the charts. 48.8 percent market
share and still growing. There were 2.5
billion Google searches in December 2005,
and the amount of searching going on is
increasing. Google gets 80 million unique
visitors per month and they have $125 billion
market capitalization. Is this dangerous?
Google is a window that doesn't just look
out onto the Internet, but also looks in.
records societal trends based on what people
are looking for. Gmail is very popular,
but context-sensitive ads actually read
your email. Google Analytics is a neat package
that lets you know what's going on on your
website...but is Google using the
information it collects from you? Should
we be concerned about them becoming a Big
About the Speaker
Dave Taylor (www.intuitive.com)
is the founder of Intuitive Systems, an
executive management and communications
consultancy. Involved with the Internet
for 25 years, he was a research scientist
and HP's R&D Labs and a senior editor
of Advanced Systems magazine. He has written
20 books including the best-selling "Wicked
Cool Shell Scripts," "Creating
Cool Websites," and "Learning
Unix for Mac OS X." Dave's most recent
book is "The Complete Idiot's Guide
to Growing your Business with Google."
It was a bright cold day in April, and
the clocks were striking thirteen.
--George Orwell, 1984
Privacy is a matter of perspective. Different
people are concerned about different things.
For example, cell phones allow the network
to always know where you are. This is useful
for sending targeted ads to your cell phone
based on your location, like telling you
about a nearby restaurant. Imagine if all
data were available to everyone. It already
seems to be true: random companies seem
to know how much money I owe on my mortgage,
and I've never heard of these companies.
Based on information companies have about
you, they can target specific ads (and make
offers based on what I owe on my mortgage).
I think a big problem is coming. Google
is not about searching; it's about collecting
and mining data. Their purpose is to make
money because this is a capitalist system.
But where are the checks and
Why mine data? Google's business model
is Ads by Google, making up 90 percent of
their revenue. In the old days, you spend
your marketing budget putting up billboards
and only a tiny fraction of the people it's
exposed to generate a sale. That's a very
bad equation. Google instead charges you
a percentage of
actual sales, no charge if no one buys.
This "performance-based advertising"
is new even in just the past two years.
Google's whole business is about getting
those ads put in the right place. So data
mining is critical to this company's success.
Google's market valuation is based entirely
on its ability to sell ads, and it's all
about context. When you do a search, you
get relevant ads, which is astonishing.
Getting that match is critical.
But to create context, you have to have
data. For example, you have to know synonyms,
common misspellings, jargon, Latin phrases,
Google archives everything. You can't really
delete anything. When data appears on the
Internet, they are like a kudzu vine that
covers everything almost instantly.
Think about Orwell's thought police and
thought crime, and how history could be
revised to suit political needs. Does Google
have this power?
Consider the seamy underbelly of Wikipedia.
In practice, it's a great success. It has
great content. But historical stuff is more
subject to debate. It lets whackos fight
it out, so that anyone is writing history
on wikipedia. So everything is fluid, and
more we rely on one data source, the more
risk there is for manipulation.
"Who controls the past controls the
future; who controls the present, controls
the past." And Orwell wrote this knowing
nothing about Google. I think that's pretty
Who is concerned?
PrivacyInternational.org sponsors the Big
Brother Awards. Google was nominated in
2003. Why? Nine reasons.
1. Google's Immortal Cookie: Google stores
a cookie on your computer used to identify
you. What if other sites can look at that
cookie? Well, browsers won't just hand out
cookies to anyone...you can't sniff out
other site's cookies very easily, but...
cookie never expires. Lots of sites have
followed their lead and establish immortal
cookies now. Turn off your computer for
10 years? When you fire it up, Google will
still remember you.
Audience Comment: Firefox has a great cookie
manager that lets have some control.
Trouble is, Microsoft isn't making it easy
to manage your cookies....so the major browsers
don't help you much.
2. Google records everything it can. Google
Zeitgeist shows you the world's most popular
searches. Popular searches are based on
saving every single search. It's a big effort,
but they have six zillion linux boxes to
do it on. Google knows what news you're
reading. Lots of background stuff going
on. They also track searches by geographic
region. There's no sense of anonymity
anymore; on the Internet, you're always
leaving bread crumbs. You can do some erasing
of trails, but at a fundamental level you
can't remove everything. Even old websites
that have been long removed are still archived
somewhere. Google owns the universe: you
can't control how people find or don't find
your site. Search results are algorithm-based,
so that can be manipulated. Of course people
can exploit the algorithms to their own
3. Google retains all data indefinitely.
They won't say how long. Should you be concerned?
4. Google won't say why they need this
data. But I think they need it to grow their
data mine which increases their chances
of success. The more data they have, the
more stuff they can do with it, the more
they can derive from it. They are figuring
relationships between keystrokes and consumer
5. Google hires spooks. They hired a cryptologist
6. The Google Toolbar is spyware (like
all other toolbars). The toolbar reports
your browsing history even if you never
visit Google. It even reports automatically
refreshing popup ads, showing you visited
all of those sites too. This way it can
determines what are the most popular pages
on the web. It records your address if you
map it, and then it knows how far things
are from you in your search results. Google
knows what browser I'm running, my OS, my
IP address (from an IP address you can often
know what street someone is on.
Audience question: What about browser's
that have a built-in search window, like
Firefox? That's just a link to ordinary
Google search. But even if you turn off
your Google Toolbar, it still collects data
in the background. People are happy to download
toolbars because their cool. Most people
have given up worrying about privacy.
7. Google's cache copy of website material
is illegal because it violates copyright
law. This is debatable. Defenders say it's
important enough to allow searching, so
it's ok for Google to store copies of copyrighted
material in its database. You can also
program your site to tell Google not to
archive it. Google tends to favor newer
material, but sometimes it finds very old
8. Google is not your friend. Google is
a company in business to make money. It's
not a public utility, and they have no responsibility
to the public. They can choose to kick anyone
out of their database. This gives them a
remarkable amount of power and control.
They can make any company 'cease to exist'
reason, with no recourse, no number to call.
People get kicked out for trying to exploit
the system, which is fine, but those people
go and help others "promote" their
site, and then innocent people get kicked
out. There is no recourse for those people.
tell the reasons they kick people out, so
Audience Comment: a lot of spammers should
be kicked out, but I know people who have
been kicked out for no reason at all.
Google's motto is not "Do no evil,"
it's "Let's make money for our shareholders."
9. Google is a privacy time bomb...due
to Gmail. Gmail does things like extracting
addresses from emails so it can offer to
map it for you. Google knows I'm getting
email from services that have that address.
Antispam laws require advertisers to supply
so that's mostly what Google is feeding
on. What happens when I get email from MSN
adCenter, the Google competitor? Google
knows I joined up with their competitor.
Google says none of their stuff is personally
identifiable, but who knows?
Interestingly, Gmail doesn't personally
bother me. Perhaps the CEO of Sun Microsystems,
Scott McNealy, was right: "Privacy
is dead, deal with it." Maybe it's
just no big deal.
Audience Comment: a lot of companies collect
info from registration cards, etc. and never
seem use the data.
That's because these companies are brain
dead. At least when people give up their
privacy, they want to get something back.
And it's very easy to get data from people:
you can go after kids on MySpace.com, etc.
to get credit card numbers and other sensitive
But Wait, there's more:
Google is offering free wi-fi in San Francisco--think
of what data they'll get from it. Imagine
if Google goes and buys Verizon and puts
their search box on everyone's phone...
There's Gchat... They are getting into VoIP.
They can record the phone numbers you dial.
Of course phone numbers and mortgages have
always been public records, but now this
information is so much easier to get.
Google is also managing people's websites
as a service, and getting access to even
Google and local PC files: People are putting
local tools on their PCs, and these little
programs could be reporting data back to
Google. This blurs the boundary between
your local PC and the Internet, which is
Google and Chinese Censorship: China hired
Google to provide a search engine, but tweaked
it to modify search results based on what
the Chinese government wants. That's fine,
China can do what it wants. And so can Google.
Google's logic was, if we don't do it, someone
else will. Let's be in there ready to make
things better when there is an opportunity...and
collect data on what the Chinese government
How about image search in Saudi Arabia?
They have to be censored. Should Google
do it? What if Google is going along with
other censorship rules of any other customer?
Maybe your state will want to censor stuff
someday. Some say Google shouldn't have
'compromised', but I don't.
Privacy is a huge continuum, and Google
is a really important player.
Q & A
Q: What about market share getting taken
away by Yahoo, MSN, etc.?
A: Others are copying Google with ad words,
and having the same concerns as Google.
But even if their market share drops, there
are more users coming in, so their market
still continues to grow. Google needs to
get caught doing something really horrible
before anything bad would happen to them.
Q: I worked at a search engine company.
The info was incredibly loose, shipped overseas
to get around privacy laws. It's not just
Google we have to worry about.
Q: Zillow.com property values are really
wrong. So is it a problem?
A: It doesn't matter because it 'appears'
to be accurate. So now Zillow is setting
property values to some extent. Maybe a
criminal wants to find expensive houses
to rob--he can use Zillow to find them.
Q: How can Google help my business?
A: For all the negatives, the world is
moving away from branding and towards whether
or not your business can be found on line.
If Google is replacing billboards, you better
find a way to be found in
Q: Google is the biggest branding success.
A wonderful brand and business.
A: Yes, but Google is a success is because
they were better than everyone else, not
because of their brand. Google can help
your business if you can get your business
to pop up. The guys that don't do web stuff
will get killed in the new advertising market.
The key is can you be found when someone
searches for your
Q: I want to know how many people recommended
A: Google ranks sites by how many people
point to a page. But it's not a democracy,
because more important pointers are more
valued. Doesn't matter if people are pointing
to it and saying bad things--Google doesn't
discriminate. Even at Amazon, you don't
know who is doing the reviews. But there
is useful information to
be had...every time we give up some privacy
we get some cool results.
Q: Controlling history is more frightening
to me than the privacy issues. Who can protect
A: Let's google "who won the civil
war?" and see what we get. Schools
don't teach kids how to critically analyze
the information they see. Does Google decide
who won? Well, history has always been fluid,
even before Google.
Q: History is based on consensus of opinion.
But the raw facts shouldn't be under the
control of the free market. What will people
of the future be looking at to understand
what happened today?
A: Well, a lot of historical documents
are myth. Perhaps it will depend on whoever
edited the wikipedia answer this morning.
Certainly the free market is better than
Q: The internet has a lot of real stuff
stored, if you want to find the truth about
Q: At my company we had one employee who
installed a Google Desktop and this resulted
in ITAR-sensitive documents being stored
in Google. Big Oops.
A: This doesn't surprise me. That's the
danger of not having a clear boundary between
what's on your computer and local network,
and what's on the Internet for all to see.
Q: Isn't everything moving towards moving
all information online, with remote applications
and storage, etc?
A: All the stories about the PC going away
and everything being done remotely just
haven't panned out...but maybe that will
Q: Perhaps a few paranoid people will keep
their servers in safes, while everyone else
goes 100% on line.
Q: Why hasn't Google moved on some their
other cool stuff, like Froogle?
A: Well, Google has too much stuff going
on. Check out labs.google.com. Things just
show up. Little tools that collect data.
Yahoo shops is cool, Google might want to
do the same thing when they're not focused
on something else.
Q: How do they make money off of something
A: By placing ads. Like Gator, but 10 years
later. Everything is about ad placement.
Q: Two sites: one has yahoo ads, the other
has Google ads, otherwise the same. Will
Google rank one site higher?
People debate this. We just don't know.
But I think this would be too dangerous
for Google to do.
Click fraud problem: tell your friends
to click on a competitor's ads to inflate
their marketing costs. OR, for people who
pay to put ads on your site (ad sense),
you can tell friends to come to my site
and click on some ads. This is Google's
Achilles heal: if it
doesn't work, Google will lose all their
revenue. They will try to solve click fraud
through data mining, and this is their most
important effort right now.
Ask yourself how much privacy your giving
up...when you surf, when you email, when
you gas up with a credit card? Just ask
yourself. There's more info about this at
appreciates the sponsorship of
and Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com).