Posts filed under ‘Google’

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

Welcome to Japan

On November 20 2007, Japan passed a law requiring all non-Japanese citizens over 16 years of age to be fingerprinted and photographed when entering Japan. The law also encompassed foreign nationals living in Japan.

I blogged about this at the time and questioned whether the Japanese had the wrong targets – the biometrics programme was supposedly being introduced to counter “the war on terror”. So the argument seemed to be foreigners equal terrorists, so let’s round ‘em up, fingerprint and photograph them. Japanese authorities seemed to conveniently forget that domestic, not foreign, terrorism is their problem (Sarin gas attack in Tokyo subway as an example). So dudes: if you really want to smoke out terrorists, fingerprint everyone, including Japanese citizens. But I reckon your country is pretty low on Al Qaeda’s list of who or what to blow up.

Criticism at the time even suggested that Japan’s new biometric system had more to do with xenophobia and racism. Of course, the real reason is that biometrics is BIG business since 9/11. The biometrics industry is predicted to be worth more than US $7 billion a year by 2012. This is why we will all be subjected in the future to being fingerprinted and photographed to death.

However, when it comes to Google StreetView, the Japanese seem to mind very much if THEY are the targets of surveillance. Forget the poor foreigners lining up in immigration to get fingerprinted and snapped! You know what I think of StreetView. If you don’t, go here and here. StreetView hit Japan in August 2008 with the insidious Google vans cruising up and down the streets of twelve Japanese cities.

But a bunch of Japanese academics, journalists and lawyers have sent a petition to Google’s Japanese subsidiary demanding that StreetView be canned because….it’s an invasion of privacy. Yeah, could have told them that. The petition in part said that the Google service “constitutes violent infringement on citizens’ privacy by photographing residential areas, including community roads, and publishing their images without the consent of communities and citizens” and that StreetView is distributing private information “more easily, widely, massively and permanently than ordinary cameras and surveillance cameras do”. Mmmmmm…..seems though they might be more sensitive about Japanese “love hotels” being captured by StreetView and showing couples walking in or out.

Well dudes, have a think about this – whilst your complaining about violation of your privacy, what about foreigners who are subjected to biometrics?  Aside from the fact that I wonder if targeting a particular group (ie non-Japanese citizens) could be legally challenged, think about the fact that fingerprints and photographs comprise unique digital records, which can be reproduced, stolen or shared with other Governments (eg the US) against the will or the knowledge of said poor foreign national. The legislation that passed into law Japan’s biometric programme specifically states that digital information collected  will be checked against international crime and terrorism databases, as well as domestic crime records and then stored for an unspecified time. So whilst Japanese citizens are fretting over distribution of private information and being caught on StreetView, foreigners have to worry about what information the Japanese will share about them with foreign governments.

Let’s not kid ourselves by naively thinking that our private information can’t or won’t be shared. Northwest airlines happily handed over passenger information to NASA, despite assuring passengers that the airline would not share confidential passenger data. JetBlue has admitted that it secretly gave  passenger records including names, addresses, phone numbers and flight information to a Defense Department contractor. I could give you many more examples.

Japanese citizens: welcome to the world of surveillance.

December 28, 2008 at 11:52 pm 6 comments

LIFE photo archive

Back in the mists of creation, when I was growing up, LIFE magazine was a big deal in my family. My father used to get issues sent out from the US. We’d eagerly await the post along with our latest issue of Reader’s Digest – hey, told you I was boring! Regular ThinkingShift readers know of my photography obsession and LIFE always carried dramatic, emotive photos often snapped by famous photographers.

And now Google (yep, those dudes who prefer to cruise the streets snapping innocent citizens for StreetView) are doing something really worthwhile. Google is digitizing the LIFE photo archive. Can’t get much better for me! So far, 20% of the archive is available and most of the images have never been seen. Around two million photos stretching from the 1750s to today have been digitized with about 8 million more to go. Google’s blog details the project. You can browse images by decade and category. There are of course copyright implications but old photos would have passed into the public domain but since some of them have never been published, the copyright status might be uncertain. So hopefully I’m not about to break copyright by showing you some stunning photos!

31 year old composer Peter Mennan. Taken December 1955 by photographer Gordon Parks. This is a personal favourite of mine – the emphasis on the hands is simply brilliant.

The all-time best novelist, Laurence Durrell (and if you haven’t read him, do yourself a favour). Taken in France in 1960 by photographer Loomis Dean.

A fabulous photo from 1937 showing an oil tanker at a dock in Texas, US. Photographer Margaret Bourke-White (aka seriously famous and excellent photographer!).

Bill Robinson’s funeral, November 11 1949. Photographer is Cornell Capa, the younger brother of Robert Capa (another seriously famous and excellent photographer). The photo caused me to look up Bill Robinson – I have to confess ignorance. Apparently, this is a photo of the funeral of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the best-known tap dancer of his generation. I say “apparently” because his date of death appears to be November 25, 1949 and the photo is from November 11, 1949. So either I’m wrong or the LIFE archives have the wrong date for the photo. Anyway, fabulous photo: instead of snapping grieving faces, Capa goes for the sweeping panoramic view at an unusual angle.

You can access the Life Photo Archive hosted by Google here.

December 3, 2008 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Google tracks flu (and you?)

There are many aspects of Google I don’t like (such as StreetView) but Google’s latest initiative is an early warning system for flu outbreaks. It’s called Google Flu Trends and is no doubt part of their efforts to break into the health industry, which I’ve blogged about before. Google is suggesting that its new tool could help to spot flu trends up to two weeks before being reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. At the moment, Flu Trends is US specific.

Apparently, Google have noticed a spike in search terms up to two weeks before officials announce a flu outbreak with users suffering from flu-like symptoms searching terms like “flu symptoms”. This is when Google’s “I know everything you search” capability is put to good use! So Google’s Flu Trends analyses the search terms in real time and creates graphs and maps showing clusters of flu outbreaks.

Normally of course, people trot off to the doctor or hospital and it can take time for data about flu trends to be accumulated, analysed and officially reported.  Google is clearly leveraging collective intelligence with this new tool and using search traffic for flu surveillance.

From a privacy perspective, individual searches are not identified according to the tool’s Protecting User Privacy statement. But being the suspicious type, I do wonder what the relationship is between Google Flu Trends and Google Health. I’ve blogged before about what I see are the potential issues around Google Health here and here.

Google Health is being touted as a free, central storehouse for your medical information, which can be shared with doctors, insurance companies and other primary health providers. But I’m concerned about the privacy implications (especially around selling off health records to a third party – read Google’s own terms of service if you don’t believe this could happen. As I read it, the new owner of health records may have a completely different privacy policy that gives them the right to sell off health records to say employers or drug companies).  Now, I’m sure that selling off health records is not Google’s main aim but their own privacy policy does allow for the possibility that the Google Health arm could be sold off with all its records. Scary thought if you ask me. Imagine employers buying this sort of stuff and knowing about your health.

Of course, the PR spin on all this is that Google Health and Flu Trends put power in our hands. We can be in control of our own health records and be better informed – imagine that you login to Google Health and it alerts you to a potential flu epidemic in your area. You are forewarned.

But you know: something nags at me. Google can in fact whip up a list of people who search for particular terms (identified by IP address and/or cookie value). Google has admitted this. So I’m not sure their privacy statement about not being able to identify people searching for keywords relating to flu holds. Just imagine for a moment that a person searches for “symptoms of AIDS” or “alcoholism signs”. Search terms and history reveal a lot of personal information and if linked to a particular user, there could be adverse consequences for employment, insurance or travel.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) shares similar concerns. EPIC sent a letter to Google’s CEO urging Google to be transparent and reveal the algorithm on which Flu Trends data is based and disclose exactly how Google protects privacy. The Drudge Report certainly sees a Big Brother aspect to all this when it released its reaction to Google’s new tool with the headline “Sick Surveillance: Google Reports Flu Searches, Locations to Feds”.

Whilst Google says it will anonymise search data, Google might want to read a paper called Trail Identification: Learning Who You Are From Where You Have Been, which states in part:

“Consider online consumers, who have the IP addresses of their computers logged at each website visited. Many falsely believe they cannot be identified. The term “re-identification” refers to correctly relating seemingly anonymous data to explicitly identifying information (such as the name or address) of the person who is the subject of those data. Re-identification has historically been associated with data released from a single data holder.”

Re-identification algorithms “are extensible to tracking collocations of people, which is an objective of homeland defense surveillance” according to the paper.

My wild imaginings lead me to ponder – could Google Flu Trends, coupled with Google Health, lead to the following sorts of scenarios to name just two:

  • insurance companies identifying areas as prone to certain diseases and denying health insurance
  • employers using health data to screen candidates

Of course, you can give Google the flick and use an anonymising service like Tor, which defends against network surveillance that threatens personal privacy. It bounces your searches and communications around a distributed network. Check it out. I of course use it!

November 20, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Google: the new global superpower

You know that I carry on about privacy issues. And regular readers will know that I am wary of Google and its StreetView (if not, check out the Google category on this blog). I came across two things this week that rather glaringly (for me anyway) demonstrated the tremendous power Google now has. In fact, a new book (Die Googlefalle or The Google Trap by Austrian author, Gerald Reischl) refers to Google as “..the world’s largest publisher, dealer, and registrar of information. But only very few users really know the US search engine has its finger in every pie.”

It is the most popular search engine on the planet. It has a market share of 95% in some European countries. Whole libraries and knowledge centres have been shut down because “anyone can just Google it”. I think there are many questions to ask about Google’s agenda. For example: I’ve blogged before about Google Health. Why is Google getting into handling sensitive health data to which God knows who could have access (Government, employers, immigration officials to name a few).

Check out this video (a bit dramatic due to the music) but it gets you thinking – what is Google really doing with all the user data it stores?

Also, check out this interesting redesign of Google, intended to highlight the privacy implications. Notice how stuff like iGoogle, Maps, Images, Gmail and so on has been replaced by Private Life, Sex Life, Finances, Political Views. You’ll see something already entered into the Search box. Go ahead and press Send and see what happens!

And yet, back in the early days of the dot.com era, Google looked rather innocent with its name in an ugly, garish font. To celebrate its 10th birthday, Google has just made available a version of its search engine from January 2001 (2001 being the earliest year it could generate an index for). Not so long ago really but most of the sites we are now very familiar with did not exist. If you searched for YouTube, you were taken to a site talking about medical feeding tubes. Facebook was still back in US colleges and Wikipedia was in its infancy. Do a search for Sarah Palin and you get zippo (mmm….can we go back to 2001 please?). ThinkingShift didn’t exist. Google Earth, Google Maps and StreetView didn’t exist.

And here’s an interactive timeline of Google’s history – did you know that Google was originally called BackRub?

Google has come a long way since 2001 and we’ve come to rely on applications like Google Maps. But what exactly IS Google’s agenda? Is Google really collecting knowledge about every user and the web? Is it becoming the world’s largest data dealer? Is it becoming an uncontrollable global power?

Image credit: The Age

October 16, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

What’s up with the Swedes?

Kim Photo -- BluesI heard rumblings of this last week but have found it difficult to track down details, so I may not have a complete and accurate picture yet. The Swedes are about to pass a piece of legislation that Bush would be immensely proud of. Next Tuesday, June 17, the Swedish Parliament looks set to pass this startling law (which I won’t attempt to write or pronounce in Swedish). For the non-Swedes amongst us this Bill should be called any of the following:

  • undemocratic
  • a complete abuse of civil rights
  • better than the Stasi could ever come up with
  • Big Brother in CAPS

When I think of Sweden I think of (predictable I know) ABBA, IKEA and a lot of funky design. I don’t think of Sweden as being in the grip of Big Brother. But alas, there’s clearly something in the Swedish water for this is what’s happening:

  • the Bill is roughly translated to “a better adapted military intelligence gathering”
  • it gives Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment (or FRA) wide sweeping powers to monitor all incoming and outgoing telephony traffic, which means web searches, emails, phone calls and faxes
  • say what?? let’s hear that again – ALL web, email and telephone traffic going into or out of Sweden.
  • let’s pause for a moment to consider that internet searches are often routed through countries on the way to their final destination, so data contained within the traffic routing through Swedish borders MAY NOT EVEN CONCERN the Swedes!!

It gets worse. All telephone companies and ISPs will be required to link up to the FRA’s supercomputer (apparently, the fifth most powerful computer on the planet). This is why the law is known as The FRA Law. The FRA will search the data in real time and match keywords against a list of 250,000. If any communication or web search contains an offending keyword or two it will be hauled aside for further analysis (along no doubt with the person who made the call, sent the email or searched the internet).

Some 500 Swedish authorities will be able to request searches and analysis, including the police, secret service, customs. Even business will be able to participate in this wild wiretapping frenzy although they will have to make a request through a Government authority. And the Bill allows Swedish citizens to be singled out and targeted.

According to the Swedish Pirate Party (gotta love that name) a majority of Parliamentary members back the Bill so it’s likely to pass. Very little has been mentioned of this in English language blogs or newspapers (that I can find anyway). But Google (who I normally rant and rave about) is actually against this Bill. Google? Yes, Google who see no reason they cannot drive up your driveway, take a photo of your house and smack said photo onto Google Maps or Street View. Even Google is up in arms about this Bill.

Google has slammed it for being illiberal and undemocratic – you go Google! Google’s global privacy officer (they have one?) said: “We have contacted Swedish authorities to give our view of the proposal and we have made it clear that we will never place any servers inside Sweden’s borders if the proposal goes through. We simply cannot compromise our users’ integrity by allowing Swedish authorities access to data that may not even concern Swedish activity”.

TeliaSonera, the Nordic and Baltic telecommunications provider, is planning to move its servers out of Sweden to protect the privacy of its Finnish customers.

The leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge, has a great summary of the Bill and its history here. Not exactly objective I guess but it’s the only detailed summary I could find.

Talk about a Government having wide-sweeping powers to wire-tap and snoop. Should this Bill pass next Tuesday, then we should mark June 17 2008 as the day that the Swedish people lost any expectation of privacy and became instead a society that is watched and surveilled every moment of the day.

I don’t understand why news wires and blogs haven’t picked up on this – shouldn’t we be extremely concerned that this dark threat to privacy is happening??

Source: The Register

June 14, 2008 at 3:27 am 10 comments

100 things to do with Google maps mashups

I was cruising around the Internet looking for Google Street View stuff and came across 100 Things to Do with Google Maps. Now, I’m tempted to say #1 should be to torch Google Maps but I decided to check it out and found the maps mildly interesting with some downright entertaining. Go here to see the post from the Google Maps Mania blog.

Should you wish to track terrorists around the world, Google has the map for you. I found it a bit disconcerting that the map has flashing bits and pieces. If you’re caught short and need to rush into a loo anywhere around the world, a Google map will come to your rescue (is there nothing safe from Google?!!). And should you want to know how to pray in the direction of Mecca, no problem, there’s a Google map. And should you be desperate to get a Starbucks coffee and puchase a mug (Dave: do you have them all yet??), then there’s a Google map for finding a Starbucks.

Of particular interest to me was entry #87, finding a world webcam. Naturally, you can imagine the fun I had searching for the location of those intrusive public eyes around the world. But the map of Australia really needs an overhaul. Sydney has a heap of webcams not shown. Could you imagine my excitement if I ever get my hands on a complete Google map that showed all the insidious CCTV/public webcams around the world, totally kept up to date? I could walk the streets of any city with map in hand, darting around this corner or down that street to avoid the starting blinking eye of surveillance. Bliss! Where’s that sort of map Google?

May 21, 2008 at 2:00 am 2 comments

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