Are They Privacy-Busters? · Potentially, but it doesn’t feel like a big deal.
Tim Bray is among the willfully ignorant/deliberately obtuse when it comes to anything Google. The privacy implications with Glass are more troubling for the wearer, especially if it becomes widely adopted.
This is undoubtedly overlooked and excused by the implied and explicit consent the wearer offers when he agrees to Google’s terms of service. But it’s disingenuous to believe that users really read, think about and understand TOS; and extend that thinking to the implications of huge swaths of the world’s population agreeing to the same thing.
And again, Google doesn’t need Glass to be ubiquitously deployed. It will be adopted by a significant cross-section of society. Data from Glass will be used to refine the predictive value of data obtained from slightly less creepy Google surveillance efforts, such as Maps, Google+, gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, and every other honey pot that Google offers users to surrender their data and privacy.
And again, the issue is not one of the desirability or lack thereof of “advertising” supporting “free” services. The issue is what Google will be able to achieve using big data techniques on incredibly large quantities of surveillance data that make the Stasi look like rank amateurs.
We don’t know what Google’s doing in its data centers. We don’t know how it’s analyzing data obtained from users in Washington DC, or federal law enforcement agencies. We don’t know if Google can sift through the data and tell if a Congressman or Senator is having an affair, or taking bribes, or considering legislation that may be inimical to Google’s interests.
Why do you think Eric Schmidt uses a Blackberry?
We don’t know how Google chooses what’s “relevant” in your search requests if you’re a political activist, a likely voter, a congressional staff member, a reporter or a federal investigator. Can Google influence users through the tailoring of “relevant” information? I think it can, and I think it’s experimenting with that now. But I don’t know that for a fact.
We don’t know what Google’s doing in its data centers.
We don’t know when Google’s wealth of surveillance data is going to become irresistible to those with “national security” responsibilities.
For a company supposedly not “evil,” supposedly “open” there’s an awful lot we don’t know about what they’re doing.
We are headed for a confrontation with Google.
And it won’t end well.
But Google Now, and the Star Trek computer approach to search in general, aim to be far more personal than classic Google Search. Already, Now uses your phone’s GPS to keep tabs on your location — not just where you are at the moment, but where you’ve been — so it knows where you live and where you work. It scans your Google Calendar and Google Contacts to help it figure out what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. It peeks in your Gmail to find items such as tracking information for packages on their way to you. And it checks your search history to deduce stuff like which sports teams and stock quotes you follow. Then it displays cards showing information you might be interested in.
In other words, Google Now provides a form of search which isn’t search at all, strictly speaking. It’s anticipatory rather than reactive, and the only reason it works at all is because it’s so plugged into your life.
I’m still somewhat at a loss to understand why so many people seem to misunderstand the problem of Glass.
The loss of privacy implications of Glass are not, in the main, from its camera looking outward at others, with the concomitant loss of others’ privacy. The loss of privacy is primarily that of the wearer, and it’s significant.
Now, if Glass or similar technology never becomes widely adopted, the issue is somewhat mitigated, but not entirely. The current “point-and-laugh” reaction is understandable, and utterly deserved. But Glass will provide significant advantages to its wearers as apps are developed that exploit its capabilities. Those advantages, some of them well into the “creepy” area (Apps that may purport to detect the “truthfulness” of someone’s representations - a “lie detector” if you will - is one example.), may propel widespread adoption, but only time will tell.
No, Google is using Glass to obtain data on its wearers. Google wishes to understand user behavior in order to better refine the predictive algorithms of its “big data” advertising engines. Glass is an intrusive surveillance technology that gives Google an incredible view into the daily lives of its wearers. They will use that data to make correlations with the data they receive through their other products, all of which are intended to extract information from their users. The insights provided from Glass will help to make the coarser data obtained from Android, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google+, and all the other surveillance efforts, more valuable. So even if Glass is never widely adopted, the information gathered from whatever the installed base turns out to be will be useful to make all the other data collection efforts more valuable.
I believe that, ideally, Google hopes that Glass is widely adopted. Again, that kind of access into users’ lives is incredibly valuable in terms of being able to influence their choices. Recall that everything you see in Glass is filtered through Google’s big-data algorithms to determine what Google believes is “most relevant” for you - and likely “most advantageous” for Google.
And please bear in mind that the information Google gathers on individuals will ultimately, if it hasn’t already, be perceived as an invaluable resource to government in the interest of “national security.” Information gathered by Google by any means, not just Glass.
Regardless of whether or not Glass is ever commercially successful as a product, this is a horrifying example of people willingly surrendering any notion of privacy whatsover (recall Scoble’s picture in the shower) to a commercial entity that has no accountability to them whatsoever.
Glass should be illegal. Google should be ashamed. Its advocates and apologists are all fools.
I tried to post this as a link, but it didn’t work. Perhaps there’s some restriction on the amount of text in a link post. Opaque to me. Don’t recall having that problem before.
This should be no surprise. The Really Smart People™ at Google need as clean a data set as they can manage to determine just what level of granularity Glass can achieve. If users were allowed to share their surveillance devices it would fuzz up the data. They need to correlate Glass inputs with inputs from other sources to begin to refine inferences from the more mainstream data sources.
If you’re a Glass wearer, Google’s going to be observing your behavior and comparing the outputs of its predictive algorithms using mainstream data against your observed behavior as collected by Glass. If you allow someone else to wear your device, Google has no idea what other data to correlate against - unless there were some way to “sign in.” That may be coming. But right now they need to get some good data on just how valuable this data stream might be, and how hard to fight for it if a backlash emerges.
Right now they’re not allowing advertising in Glass apps. That’s partly to ensure the best experience by early adopters. Later they will allow advertising, likely their own, and they’ll measure how effective that is. Ads delivered by Glass are likely to be based on predictions, and Google is going to want metrics on how accurate (and therefore valuable) those predictions are. It’s also possible the ads will be delivered by other means, if the prompt isn’t especially time-sensitive. There’s no compelling reason why an ad that is intended for a highly vulnerable user must be displayed by Glass.
Right now, I think in some ways Glass remains an experiment. The nature of the intrusiveness of this form of surveillance seems lost on the majority of people. I think Google knows that once enough people understand just what Google is collecting with this device, a backlash will develop. How that plays out will depend, to some extent, on how valuable Google perceives the data from Glass. There is no such thing as “bad” data, there is just “more” valuable and “less” valuable data. If this is very valuable data, and its progress to date seems to indicate that Google believes it is, it will fight very hard.
Even if Glass were ultimately banned (except for government and law enforcement, perhaps), Google will be able to use the data it will begin collecting now to refine the predictive algorithms that rely on the mainstream data sets (Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, Google+, Android, etc.) and make that data more valuable.
Google is arrogant and pursues a policy of seeking forgiveness rather than permission, because once it has the data - as in the book scanning, the wifi data, the Safari cookies, - it has the data. It can’t “unsee” it. The algorithms can be tuned and refined. Data is data, and they try to grab as much of it as they can before someone tells them they can’t.
And so far, almost no one has told them they can’t.
Slowly, the implications are beginning to dawn on people.
New boss. Same as the old boss.
Facebook is beating Google in social. But Google has more pervasive, persistent data sources on consumers through its other apps and services, chiefly Gmail, Maps, Docs, Now, Drive, etc. They need the social graph piece, which is what Google+ was designed to address, but they have large pieces Facebook doesn’t have.
This is Facebook’s effort to close that gap. If they can get their phone platform into enough hands, they can begin to to do so; but that’s a big “if.” Google is facing a problem with it’s “open” Android, and competitors forking it to exclude Google from the data stream.
Android is a surveillance device. It’s the drone in your pocket. We’re all worried about government drones overhead, but Google’s put one in everyone’s pockets.
Facebook and Google are direct competitors. They’re both looking to sell highly predictive data to advertisers that identify likely “hot” prospects. For us, that means “relevant” intrusive ads. But it will go further than that. The predictive algorithms will be used to identify when we are most vulnerable to particular forms of influence through media or advertising. We are going to be be played.
These guys have very smart people working on this, because this is how they want to make their money, by empowering merchants. They are not interested in empowering us, whether you regard us as users, consumers or customers. We’re the product.
The tech press is enamored with smart people doing whizzy things with computers. Big data is the latest buzzword. And big data can do remarkably valuable things for us as a civilization. But we’re going to use it to sell crap. To extract more wealth from the middle and lower classes and funnel it to the corporations.
There is no skepticism from the press. No critical inquiry into what Google, and Facebook, are doing in their data centers with this data. We’re all worried about government drones overhead, but we’re willingly paying for the privilege of installing persistent, intrusive surveillance devices in our pockets; and if Google has its way with Glass, on our heads.
Apple makes its money selling shiny widgets. It sucks at big data, it’s not in its core mission. Apple is a latter day industrial company. It makes things. Google and Facebook are post-industrial companies. They don’t make things, they gather and manipulate data. And they’re not doing it for us. They’re doing it for major corporations.
Amazon is a retail outfit, and it’s also looking like it wants to get into the services business. It has some big data play as well, but they’re not as troubling, to my mind, as Google and now Facebook.
The other challenge will come when government decides that all that data has some sort of national security interest. What Google is doing is essentially what Total Information Awareness was supposed to do, although Google is looking for suckers, er, potential customers instead of terrorists.
And don’t imagine that all this data is anonymized. It may be in some legal sense, but all this data is logged and tracked. It can all be linked back together. Indeed, for this vision to have any meaningful validity, it cannot be effectively anonymous. They may not know your “name,” but they know the ID of the phone in your pocket. And how hard is it to connect those two data points?
It’s just remarkable to me that nobody sees this as a potential problem. People being exploited by big data, and the potential for government to use these surveillance efforts for whatever purposes governments like to use surveillance data for, sometimes not the public interest. J. Edgar Hoover, anyone?
But we’ll all whistle past the graveyard and write breathless stories about how Android is “winning,” and Google has fabulous pictures from the world’s highest peaks in its maps application. All the while empowering them to control and manipulate large segments of society, and extract ever greater amounts of wealth from the middle and lower classes to enrich the oligarchy.
I worked at Facebook from 2005 to 2010 in a series of roles culminating in a position as Zuckerberg’s speechwriter, and had an opportunity to observe the development of Facebook both as a social media platform and as what it increasingly aims to become: a global leader on par with nations. “Companies over countries,” Zuckerberg often said in meetings
Kate Losse for Dissent Magazine: Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning in? (via iamdanw)
“Companies over countries.” That’s an outcome of commercial culture. An undesirable outcome.
You should read this opinion piece. I don’t wish to be one who fear-mongers, but we’re promoting and embracing a technology far in advance of our ability to understand the consequences. Think about the “peaceful atom” and our issues with the disposal of spent nuclear fuel.
But we can envision some of the consequences of what Google is doing, and what it is becoming the model for doing.
Capitalism, commerce and competition cause us to act before we can think. We need to reverse that.
As an advanced technological civilization, we need to learn to think past the end of our noses, or the next quarterly report.
Or we won’t be an advanced civilization for long.
There’s nothing inherently “wrong” with gathering large amounts of data. Information is all around us all the time. It is only our capacity to gather it and manipulate it in vast quantities that has changed.
Like any technology, it is the purpose to which it is used that determines whether it is “good” or “evil.” There are very many good things that can be learned from analyzing vast quantities of data. But it’s harder to regulate the desires and intentions of human beings.
Google is a commercial entity that is focusing exclusively on big data, and the means to collect it. All of Google’s “free” offerings, Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, Android, Google+, etc. are mechanisms to cause users to surrender data about themselves. Facebook does this as well, which is why the rumor that Facebook is developing a phone never dies. With its own phone platform, it could gather data that slips through its Facebook app.
But Google is vastly ahead, even though its social offering, Google+, is mostly a dud. It still has Android and all its services; and if it’s lucky, soon it will have Glass, which will give it the most intrusive data gathering surveillance device any spook could ever hope to have.
Google intends to use this data to predict your actions in a particular context. By being able to make predictions regarding your intentions, it’s able to identify “hot” prospects to merchants and commercial entities that might cater to that kind of customer. Having access to that kind of data would be vastly more efficient than broadcast advertising to millions, of whom only a few percent might be genuine potential customers. That kind of data will be very valuable to those commercial entities, and Google intends to provide it to them, and get rich(er) in the process.
But there are other implications as well. We understand more about human behavior every day, and how it may be influenced. It’s one thing to guess with some accuracy what a particular person may be intending to do at any given time, it’s another thing entirely to use that data to influence that person to turn a potential intention into reality. That’s what advertising does. And that’s Google’s business.
Google doesn’t empower us, the ordinary people of the world. It may appear as though it does, but the vast majority of its efforts are on behalf of the people who want to sell you something. Google works for them, not for you. Big data in the service of commerce is not the same thing as big data in the service of the common good.
And then there’s the question of how the government will regard such vast stores of predictive data. Google’s efforts resemble Adm. Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness proposal, which was defunded by Congress. Effectively, the government is outsourcing TIA to Google. Google’s data warehouses will prove to be an irresistible temptation to the national security types in the government. One can easily envision a scenario where, in return for being allowed to operate its business, the government will be given access to Google’s data for the purposes of “oversight,” or “regulation.” In effect, Google will become the domestic version of the NSA.
These are important issues that get very little attention in the press. They’re starting to get more, but not enough. Those of you who use Google’s products and services, especially Android, should be aware that you’re helping to fund and assemble this vast domestic spy apparatus.
There is no such thing as free lunch.