Posts filed under ‘Google’

Switzerland kills Street View

I’m loving the Swiss. The Swiss Federal Data Protection and Information Commish to be exact. His name is Hans-Peter Thür and he has accused Google of not protecting the privacy of Swiss citizens. Quelle horror! I can’t believe that – Google not respecting privacy?!!

Regular readers know that I have an aversion to Google Street View. Yes, it can be very useful to look up the restaurant you’re off to for dinner or voyeuristically scan your neighbour’s backyards, but as we know, it can catch someone at an embarrassing moment and criminals are increasingly using Street View. No stretch of the imagination to think that crims can use it to scan roads in a neighbourhood, checking cars, backyards for signs of easy access, checking out whether there’s a Rottweiller in the yard that might cause problems and so on.

Greece, Japan and Germany have raised concerns about Street View and you may have read about angry citizens in Buckinghamshire, UK surrounding one of those stupid cars with intrusive 360-degree camera on the roof (police had to be called but unfortunately the Google car got away unharmed).

And the Swiss watch dog has now demanded that Google withdraw Street View from the country, one week after its launch. Thür has banned Google because he considered that faces and vehicle numbers were not sufficiently blurred. Google responded by saying that since launching in Switzerland there has been an 80% increase in maps usage, proving how popular their tool is. Well of course it is: people like to play with new stuff but once people realise how hard it is to request your face be blurred or the hoops you have to go through to get your image withdrawn from Street View – well, let’s see if people like it so much then. Clearly, any country that allows secret squirrel bank accounts like Switzerland is likely to be a country that jealously guards its privacy.

I can assure Google that if ever I spot one of those sinister looking cars with the Orwellian looking camera (or a Google Trike – yep, they get round on bikes too), the driver had better run.

Seriously, whilst we all enjoy Google this and Google that – stop for just ONE moment to think about these questions:

  • does Google hold too much power and influence over the Web and more particularly its future?
  • are you at all worried about the possibly that Google may have secured a virtual monopoly over literature?
  • are you at all concerned that Google is helping China to censor search results and is a willing part of the Great Firewall of  China? So if someone in China searches “Tiananmen Square protests” or “Falun Gong”, they would find nothing, zippo.
  • should we have anti-trust concerns about Google, particularly the close relationship between Apple and Google?
  • have you thought about how much we rely on Google? if Google disappeared overnight, whoosh, what other search engine would you use, would you be at a loss without Google Maps or Street View?  If you think you’d be like a deer caught in the traffic lights – then perhaps we are allowing Google to influence and control our online experiences too much.

August 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 4 comments

Google opt out feature

Just love this. For those of us concerned about Google and privacy, watch this. If you’re not concerned but just want to have a chuckle, watch it anyway.

August 25, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Are you guilty Google?

Sunday morningAfter 5 years, I gave up teaching at a university in Sydney largely because I was tiring of the spoon feeding students seem to expect these days. Very few students were willing to do research beyond a quick dip into Wikipedia, with the odd citation of a book or journal article thrown in. Curiosity appeared to be lacking. The general attitude seemed to be “I’m paying a heck of a lot for my education, just give me the degree/diploma”. I often had assignments handed in with slabs of text taken from Wikipedia and students more often than not failed to examine the original source material. So I threw in the towel.

Seems I’m not an isolated case as there have been some recent articles that have caught my attention and I’d like you to explore. Google and the End of Wisdom by Bob Batchelor is an interesting piece.  Here’s some snippets:

  • “I think one would be hard pressed to find a mainstream American under the age of 30 who did not feel that all their questions could be answered by Google. Today’s students, from first graders to those in graduate school, have been taught to find specific, correct answers. Google does this quickly and efficiently. For them, Google is a godsend.”
  • “In general, students are willing to forfeit advanced thinking (critical thinking, in-depth research, and healthy skepticism) for the speed and quickness of Google search results. They are so programmed by standardized testing in K-12 education that finding “facts” online is deemed sufficient to meet college-level expectations. Since standardized tests rely heavily on multiple choice examinations, the search for the single, correct answer is paramount.”
  • “Wisdom develops over time as a person stacks up experiences and finds measures to constantly reengage with the changing nature of the world at large. Relying on answers from a search engine, even if it produces thousands of results faster than the blink of an eye, cannot compare to the simple, beautiful act of sitting quietly for 15 minutes, disconnected from the computer—and thinking.”

From personal experience with Uni students over the last 5 years, I’m not going to disagree with the article. My blogging colleague Marc over at Creative Spark (you have to read his blog) had an interesting exchange with Bob regarding his article, so I won’t rehash the issues discussed.

It is of course so that we can tailor and change our information flow, through RSS feeds, Twitter exchanges and so on. So there’s an argument to say that we can be more enriched and curious in the digital world because we are exposed to so many different ideas and perspectives.

I get this but somehow – and I need to reflect more on this – it seems that today’s Uni students are just hovering at a very superficial level. They are not diving in and reflecting, ruminating, debating, challenging, exploring.

And then there was this article entitled Pixelated Brains and the New Media with a series of links to great articles, including Bob’s. The articles examine whether, with all the stuff out there in the digital universe, we are merely nibbling, grazing, getting sound bytes. Sort of like rushing through the Macca’s drive-in. We flit onto this piece of information like a butterfly and then flit somewhere else with it. But surely this aids cross-pollination of ideas.

Anyway, read the “pixelated brains” series of articles to find out whether humanity is doomed to being dumbed down or whether we are an evolving species.

At least I no longer have to mark essays that boast slabs of Wikipedia text and little evidence of critical thinking (not to mention grammatical and spelling errors). For my rants on the loss of critical thinking, go here and here if you’re interested.

August 22, 2009 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Google respects privacy

Good to see that Google can respect privacy – Colonel Sanders’ privacy that is. :-)

As we know, Google’s been taking a bit of a hammering lately over Google Street View.

Source: The Register

June 9, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

NO Google!

You know I’ve ranted and raved about Google Street View before. If not, go here for a start. Google of course has technology that will blur a face or licence plate number but the Google van still patrols streets and areas snapping away despite Privacy International lodging a complaint. Many people in the UK joined that complaint since they felt images led to identifying specific people. One woman for instance moved away from a particular area to escape a violent partner only to find she was recognisable by said partner in an image snapped by Google Street View outside her new home. And residents near Milton Keynes (UK) recently blocked the driver of a Street View car when he started taking photographs of their homes saying the service was “facilitating crime”. Street View is now in nine countries and Google wants to expand the service into Europe.

But seems Greece is saying NO to Google. The Hellenic Data Protection Authority has banned Google from expanding Street View in the country until Google can cough up satisfactory information about how long images will be stored on Google’s database and what measures Google will take to make people aware of privacy rights. Meanwhile the Japanese, who are very respectful of privacy, are also giving Google a hard time and forcing them to reshoot all images taken in that country. And it will reshoot by lowering Street View cameras by 40 cm (16 inches) following complaints of invasion of privacy because cameras were able to shoot images showing private gardens and homes.

Google will try to accommodate by blurring images or lowering camera angles but the issue to me is this – this is private exploitation of public space or a public good. And the law isn’t clear on this as yet. The argument is that what’s in public space is fair game, yet if I roam the streets of Sydney as I have done many times with my camera, I get hauled aside and asked questions about what I’m taking photos of and why. I have even been abused by a man for taking a photo of a public building (a library) and he was just on the street and came over to abuse me.

In the UK, a well-known London photographer, who was going about his business of taking photos of London life, was hauled off by the police under Section 44 (Stop & Search Powers) of the Terrorism Act 2000. So why is it okay for Google to roam city streets and country laneways snapping photos showing homeless people outside a shelter; causing embarrassment and distress between a couple when a woman caught her cheating husband out; showing a man being sick in the street; or a man entering a sex shop in London? I’m sure if I took a photo of any of these people in these situations, my ass would be hauled off by the cops or I’d be abused by the people whose private circumstances I was attempting to capture on an image.

Seems to me that the Google business model is if you’re in public, tough we are going to exploit it. I am pleased to see Greece asking questions and Japan causing Google to adapt Street View to  respect privacy concerns. Now, if the law would just catch up and redefine what can and can’t be done in public space when it comes to private citizens, I’d be very very happy.

May 20, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

I’ve had a facelift

Well, no, not me but the ThinkingShift blog. If you normally view this blog via RSS, come on over and check out the new look. For over 2 years, I stuck very loyally to my favourite green colour and a flock of birds for the header. But this week, my beloved Mac laptop died so I’ve been working on an old G4, which has a much larger screen. Maybe it was the larger screen that triggered off my hissy fit but I thought I’ve had enough of this green business, time to change.

So there’s a new look and a new bird in the header – a beautiful scarlet parrot I took a snap of in Hong Kong recently. The meaning of this for me is that the parrot symbolises everything TS blog stands for – watching over and reporting on what’s going on in our society; talking about endangered species; looking at what’s curious and bizarre.  But I did include my favourite colour (green) in category titles. Tell me what you think!

Meanwhile, for those of us in Australia and New Zealand, it is ANZAC Day – the day we honour members of the Australian & New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC) who fought in Gallipoli, Turkey during WWI.  Google has changed its icon for the day:

And I also remember my own father who slugged it out in WWII as a fighter pilot for the Royal New Zealand airforce: Flight Lieutenant James Evans Jenkins No 402670, who cut a dashing figure from the cockpit of his Spitfire. My dad told me the photo below came from a promotional film the NZ Air Force shot during WWII that featured him, but I’ve never been able to track it down. NZ newspapers of the time apparently carried photos so I must try to get hold of them.

April 25, 2009 at 2:00 am 6 comments

Google world

Revealed by you.

Well, I’m back from a lightning visit to New Zealand where I gave an international address at the 7th Annual Information Management Summit in Wellington (not sure I can be classed as an international speaker when I’m an NZ’er).

I spoke about Google and privacy and Google and trusted information resources. I used a series of images rather than “death by powerpoint”, so they wouldn’t really make much sense if I showed you (especially given a photo of a rough collie was a prominent slide). But here’s the gist of what I ranted and raved about:

  • a quick history of Google – original logos and original name of Google (which was BackRub. We are so used to saying “Google it” that “BackRub it” doesn’t sound quite right does it!)
  • a quick look at Google apps like StreetView, Google Maps,  Google Latitude.  And even Google Electricity. What next? Google Water – don’t laugh, it’s possible. So it’s the world according to Google.
  • which implies points of tension/danger – I talked about the privacy implications of Google Health. And a case study example of what can happen when we rely on Google and news aggregators for accurate information and US $1 billion gets wiped off a company’s share value in minutes. I took a quick swipe at the profession of journalism (the journalist should have checked the facts).
  • along the way, I couldn’t resist carrying on about the Facebook debacle and how a company – which let’s face it is a money making venture – could conceivably turn around and say “we own your information”. And for those who’ve emailed me, nope I still don’t have enough trust in Facebook to reinstate my content.
  • but…it’s not all doom and prophecies of darkness. We don’t have to see the world according to Google.
  • I talked about the amazing power of social networks. When you have trusted relationships, you learn to rely on the credibility and accuracy of a given source or person. And with RSS feeds, you can toss out sources if you find them to be inaccurate or biased – you can alter the knowledge flow to suit your needs.
  • I ranted a bit about the loss of critical thinking in a world dominated by Google, where we find it easier to Google it than research it. I questioned whether, in an information world that is saturated and noisy, natural curiosity has been stifled.
  • I then did a quick rant about how Facebook and social networks are seductive and we perhaps give away more information about ourselves than we should. And what can happen to you if you share too much about yourself. So better to be prudent than sorry.
  • I realised along the way that Michael Sampson was live-blogging me. You can check out what he said here.  Good to catch up with Michael – don’t know how he keeps up his pace given he and his wife are about to have their ninth child!

It was also good to finally meet Keith Delarue and also catch up with someone who used to work with me, Kevin O’Donnell, who has made the move from Ireland to take up a KM role at Kiwibank.

I did have a chuckle over something though. One of the speakers was talking about “the temporary knowledge organisation”. And made the comment that the concept was probably dreamed up by some pointy-headed academics. Well, one of those pointy-headed types was in the room – me!

Rui Martins, a Lecturer at University of Newcastle, and I wrote a paper in 2003 called “The Temporary Knowledge Organisation as viewed from a complexity perspective. An enrichment of the traditional organisational project management paradigm“. It was published in a book and you can also read it here.


March 6, 2009 at 3:23 am 1 comment

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