back to article Google 'open' memo betrays deep corporate delusion

Google has sent itself a memo as part of an ongoing effort to perpetuate the self-delusion that it's the world's most open company. Monday afternoon, at the official Google blog, Google vp Jonathan "Perfect Ad" Rosenberg published an email he recently sent to company staffers under the heading "the meaning of open." Like so …

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  1. Russ Tarbox
    Thumb Down

    Am I the only one tired of this kind of angle?

    Blah blah blah Google is bad, they rule the Internet, etc etc. Yet to be honest, since they arrived, my Internet experience is far improved, they offer lots of useful stuff for free, and their advertising system actually works. How about El Reg stop attacking everything they say with the "Google is evil" attitude?

    1. JonP

      ...but it's a fair point tho.

      I agree the internet is currently a 'better place' since Google arrived, but you must be a little concerned at the dominance/influence they have. In the end they're just another company. You know, like Microsoft. Big companies need to be periodically attacked to 'keep them honest', if the attack is baseless it'll be ignored, if not then maybe things can be improved.

      And lets face it having a motto "Don't be evil" is just asking for it really!

    2. Iggle Piggle

      Agreed

      While I'm fairly sure the ad world is not a world of high moral standards (pay me and I'll tell people that your crappy product is the best in the world) it has to be said that they probably come out slightly ahead of journos (keep your head down or we'll tell everyone your family eats squirrels).

      But I suppose what the article is trying to say is that there are various different ways to define 'Open'. The first being freely open as in 'free for all' with everything negative that that implies and then there is managed openness where naturally the company is not going to give away their crown jewels but everything else will be opened once they have a version that meets the companies needs. I quite like the products that Google opens up to us, I'm not a fan of being spied on but my alternative is to pay to use the products of a different company.

      I guess the journalists (like the politicians) have a tough job. If they came out and tell us like it is then nobody would take much notice. Spice up the boring and mundane and suddenly you can have a story. I'm sure the reg don't find Google all that bad otherwise every page would not include the words "Ads by Google".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "don't be evil"

        There's quite a few Chinese dissidents who would find that laughable, if it wasn't for the fact that they're languishing in prison at the moment.

      2. James Hughes 1

        Motto.

        Well, at least the motto 'Don;t be evil' has at least some saving grace. Most companies don't advertise their motto's, because 'We are going to shaft you for every penny you've got' may dissuade customers.

    3. twelvebore
      FAIL

      Not evil, just hypocrits

      You're misreading the article - it's not saying that "Google is evil" it's saying that Google are a bunch of hypocrits. Which they are.

      Your PC experience is far improved since the arrival of Microsoft (yes, even if you don't use Windows). Would you trust them to go unfettered and unchallenged in the marketplace?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Because they're also "Open" with your privacy

      Worth having a look around just how pervasive the Google snooping is. If it was a policeman going into your life that much you would scream blue murder, but because it's a huge US company with a goo marketing team it's suddenly OK.

      Just in case you missed it, the US has the best spread technical espionage network. Things like Carnivore (DCS1000), Echelon - look it up. Jack that into Google and you might as well close the NSA other than the crypto section..

      Wind back the clock 8..10 years and see what you thought of privacy then. That's how much difference good indoctrination can make..

      Paranoid? Well, it appears you *have* to be..

    5. blackworx

      Re: Blah blah blah Google is bad

      I personally don't feel that Google has improved my internet experience by a huge amount. Plenty other stuff has had a much bigger effect, like webmail, home broadband, streaming video and P2P.

      The tone of the article is undoubtedly anti-Google, but instead of attacking that and calling the Reg's recent coverage a "Google is Evil" attitude (which it isn't) you should perhaps address some of the points raised.

      The whole thing seems pretty valid to me: Rosenberg chooses to make public an internal memo in which he bangs on about how open Google is, explicitly pointing out that Google is not one of those companies that is only open when it suits -- except that, right or wrong, that's exactly what Google is. Why shouldn't he be called on it? Nobody's saying he's an evil liar, just that he's deluded himself and is quite happy to pass his delusions on to anyone who will listen.

      Like many others I'm uneasy about Google's attitude to privacy, its skewed self-image and its constant proselytising. You say they give out "lots of free stuff" - you're right they do. In fact they'll spend money hand over fist to free any software market to death. Hardly does much for competition and innovation does it? Still, if it improves your corporate image and makes people think you're really the internet equivalent of a kindly uncle handing out sweeties then so much the better.

      I'm glad I can come to places like the Reg to get some decent analysis, because there's rarely anything of worth anywhere else.

    6. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Paris Hilton

      Yes, but...

      What you are suggesting is a logical fallacy, just because google have improved the internet experience does not meant that they are a benevolent organisation, for example a farmer who looks after his/her cattle is not doing so for the benefit of the cattle. In the same way google is not doing what it does with the information it holds about you for your benefit, it's for google’s benefit, and looking at google’s profits, I would say considerable benefit.

      I'd also argue that their advertising system doesn’t work if you are the one paying for it, especially if you are not using your full budget for target ad words.

      The purpose of propaganda (and that's what Jonathan "Perfect Ad" Rosenberg’s memo is) is not to control society, but to get society to control itself by creating a frame of mind when any dissenting views, those contrary to what the propagandists wants you to think, are immediately disregarded and/or ridiculed.

      Sorry, but does the phrase "hook, line and sinker" mean anything to you?

      Paris, who also swallows stuff from time to time.

    7. The Indomitable Gall

      Better user experience, higher price.

      Yes, Google has massively increased the user experience, but the price that they charge the user has increased.

      The data they take from users is exceptionally valuable, and that value is increasing exponentially as they take more and more.

      Google is doing what every good monopoly does: increase its price after capturing the user base.

      The thing is, because we don't see the direct cost of the price rise, we disregard it as negligible and don't move to competitors.

      So now I just need to type "time" and I get the time in the UK, because Google knows where I am despite connecting from a multinational company network. But that is a cheap function, and certainly not worth the vast amount of potential marketing cash that Google make by knowing where I live. It's not a hardship to have to type "time in UK", certainly, and that's if my PC didn't already have a clock.

  2. Anton Ivanov
    Flame

    IPs in their majority are shared and non-static

    Associating data with an IP address is useless. 95% of consumer services are on dynamic IPs and at least 50%+ of these kick the connection on regular basis (BT and Comcast for example do it every 24h). Similarly, businesses share IPs between hundreds if not thousands of employees. Tracking by IP will only screw the quality of ones data set, not improve it (even when using Google probability and stats techniques to extract data from it).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      where do these figures come from?

      I'd like to know the source of these statistics. My comcast connection has had the same IP for months and so has my parent's Virgin cable connection. DHCP will keep renewing the same IP lease if the client is powered on and allowed to by the server.

    2. Liassic
      Thumb Down

      BT doesn't renew IP every 24hrs

      My BT ADSL router only picks up a new IP address when it re-boots - which could be weeks but is normally every few days because of my flakey power supply.

      BT doesn't force an IP change ever 24 hours as you say, well not for me anyway...

    3. Will Leamon
      FAIL

      Logs

      You know they all log the IP data right? So it is quite easy to find out who had what address at any given time.

    4. InsaneGeek
      FAIL

      Comcast are pretty much static

      @Anton

      Ummm... until they did some network changes here, I've had the exact same comcast ip for over a year. That was during power outages, etc. where the routers and cable modem were rebooted. I've also had a port nailed open for multiple days (actually more like multiple weeks) so they don't kick connections either. They definetly don't flip ip's or drop every 24h, not sure where you got that information from. Sure they assign me a dynamic ip address, but if that dynamic address doesn't change for over a year (through reboots, etc) you can hardly say that ip tracking isn't useful. Additionally even modem banks which have a high-rate of change per customer haae a small finite range of ip's it will use. Using that finite range combined with other data (time of day, etc) u can identify an individual fairly easily as well.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Whatever.

    I still drop all of google's IP addresses on the floor, for my personal stuff, and wherever else I'm allowed to. Doesn't harm my Internet experience at all. The one kid that complained when I added google blocking to the Barn's router has shifted to her actual online provider's offerings, with a little help from me. She reports a better over-all experience, now that she understands the underpinnings of how the Internet works ... And that's after only a week or so!

    google should be shunned. It is an accident waiting to happen.

    1. Russ Tarbox

      *facepalm*

      Type your comment here — plain text only, no HTML

      1. jake Silver badge

        Very expressive, Russ

        But with a singular lack of content. Care to enlighten us further?

  4. Brett Brennan 1

    Like all else, Time will sort this

    Rosenberg makes some interesting points as Cade notes: "open" isn't "open" all the time or for everyone at once. Google *IS* after all a business, and shooting itself in the foot or pudknocker is not conducive to good business practices.

    Is Google making mistakes with its policies? Possibly; no, probably. Is Google doing the "best" it can do as a corporation that works in the field of sales promotion? Only time will tell on that one. Just like it did for Microsoft.

  5. JWS
    FAIL

    numpty

    He looks like a royal tit! Idiot.

  6. Neil Hoskins
    Terminator

    So basically...

    ..."open" has been hijacked by the marketing department, just like "green" has with the supermarkets.

  7. [Yamthief]

    Let's be honest...

    ...They're very good at what they do, and since Google came on to the internet scene, a lot of very useful apps and tools have been given to both developers and end users. My personal experience on the internet would be completely different without Google being the "gate keeper", but in all honesty, Their paid ad system, their search algorythm, their analytics system, their apps (eg maps) and even their mobile OS Android all work really well.

    I believe that the instant the search listing algorythm was open sourced, the search listings would be useless, filled with spam, and Google's power as the worlds best search engine would slip.

  8. Paul M 1

    At least there is no "Lock-in" with Google

    Look - if you don't like what (you perceive that) Google does then DON'T USE THEM. It's simple really. Google's business model, while highly successful, doesn't have the same cost of entry as most industries and it is very easy to use an alternative. Look at how quickly (and cheaply) Google replaced the existing search engines of the day.

    *If* Google have a monopoly in anything it's not because of underhanded business practices but becaue they continue to provide the best service for the best cost.

    And replying to this article, all I see here is Google telling the world what they mean by "Open". Cade seems to feel Google could do better on the one hand, while at the same time describing them as operating as any for-profit company would. By being clear about what they will and will not be open about, Google should be judged on how closely their actions follow this, rather than some journo's opinion about what "open" should mean.

  9. Maverick
    Happy

    @ Iggle Piggle

    "otherwise every page would not include the words "Ads by Google"."

    not here they don't :))

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Google. Where *your* business is out business

    I think that sums up the Google idea of open

    Nice article.

    You might like to remember the words of Benjamin Disrali*. "Countries have no permanent friends, only permanent interests"

    *Kenesset MP.

    1. Craig Dewar

      @ John Smith 19

      I think you are referring to Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881) Twice Prime Minister of Great Britain not an MP in the Israeli Parliament. He died a few years before the Knesset was formed in the modern era.

  11. Jacqui Smith's DVD Collection!
    Flame

    I call Bullshit on this article!

    On opening source "Just like any other public company, really." ok when did MS open any code because "it believes that doing so will help the company's bottom line"?

    And Internet gatekeeper is just plain wrong. People choose to use Google services.

    When you buy a PC it has a browser, IE, which has it's search default to Bing, people choose to change this to Google, the home page is MSN people choose to change this too.

    Quit the monopoly talk, there ain't one!

    1. Jimbo 6
      Thumb Down

      "choose to use"

      ...only because most animals will (naturally) look at what everyone else is doing, and do the same, it's number one in the survival rulebook. Thus, because Google has become a shorthand for "internet search engine", so people new to the web only hear about Google, they find it works ok, so they stick with it. I myself had never thought of changing until about 3 weeks ago, now it's "Alta Vista, baby" (said in a Terminator voice). Why have I changed ? Because I've become more aware of Google's nasty alter-ego ("how can I ever thank you, El Reg !!!").

      Saying "you can't draw attention to a Google's faults, because you *have a choice* to go elsewhere" is like saying that no-one should have complained about the Ford Pinto, because they *had a choice* to buy a car that didn't explode due to a known design fault.

    2. Lewis Mettler 1
      Stop

      you bought IE because of a monopoly

      But, you bought and paid for IE simply because of Microsoft's monopoly.

  12. Juillen 1
    Pint

    *Yawn*

    Google has zero cost of entry if you have a computing device capable of running a web browser and accessing the internet.

    This is no comparison with Microsoft or any other business that utilises vendor lockin, and obfuscated, patented protocols and file formats.

    You don't like google? Point your standard web browser elsewhere. Have your data stored with Google? They go to pains to let you retrieve it easily from them and then you can migrate it elsewhere. They make it easy to get out. Which means they are happy dealing with the competition on a level playing field, and winning by being the best.

    So far, I've not seen them cutting off companies simply because they deal with Yahoo or Microsoft, or anyone else (not that this would help anyway), or using bribery to deny a competitor's product.

    I use Google 'cos it's easy, and have done since it was released. As soon as I think they're acting unethically, I'll search for alternatives, but until then they get the benefit of the doubt (though they can screw up, just like everyone. And yes, I do give MS the benefit of the doubt on plain screwups too).

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Zero cost of entry

      "Google has zero cost of entry if you have a computing device capable of running a web browser and accessing the internet."

      Urm... really? You think my Vista PC and Virgin media "L" cable subscription is going to let me crawl, cache and index the entire internet, or even a substantial proportion of it?

      In 2005 Google estimated that the internet was 5 exabytes in size, and they'd only just broken the 170 terabyte mark in their indexing.

      What happens if we assume that Google's index is about a petabyte?

      To get all that data, it would take me 277,777,778 hours assuming maximum throughput and no throttling by Virgin. That's 11,574,074 days, or 31,688 years. And in the meantime, the data keeps changing.

      To store it, I'd need one thousand hard-drives, at about 100 quid each -- £100,000! But of course, I'd need some way of connecting them to my Compaq laptop, which doesn't have any external SATA capacity, never mind 1000 ports. That would take a full data centre SAN setup.

      The start-up costs are far from zero.

    2. Graham Marsden
      Boffin

      You miss the point...

      Google is used for searches by the majority of web users, yet they have the power to make a website simply disappear to those searchers.

      Back in 2006 the Inquisition 21 website that campaigned against Operation Ore convictions vanished from Google search results and there was a statement that "Google may temporarily or permanently ban any site or site authors that engage in tactics designed to distort their rankings or mislead users in order to preserve the accuracy and quality of our search results."

      See http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/21/google_delists_inq21/

      Now is that "them behaving unethically"? And would most people know or care that their results are being manipulated?

  13. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
    Grenade

    Evil lives in the Minds of the Intellectually Challenged and Morally Bankrupt ...... Life's Losers?

    "Never mind that Eric Schmidt seemed hell-bent on destroying any existing trust when he told the world that only miscreants care about online privacy"

    Ergo Google's deliberately ambiguous and less than fully open corporate shenanigans are harbouring miscreants in their midst, and knowingly so?

    Which is only shared as a question because .... well, it is Xmas, so why be brutally honest about a glaring obvious deficiency and fool failure/smart move and typical business practice?

    The Future and Power of Search is, and has always probably been in the GoGoOgle Bubble, not the Quest for Objective Knowledge and Information but rather the Controlled and Controlling Placement of Subjective Intelligence and Wisdom to Provide an Advantageous PreCogniscent Lead and a QuITe Politically Incorrect Disadvantage to Others who would be Providing them with their Services/Search Histories. However, if it is not a Google tempting itself to be an Absolute Controlling Power Source, it will be a Bing or an Oracle or a Sony or a Mubadala or an IntelAIgents Server or another Control Freak Power Operation, for it is only Natural as Man evolves into AI with ITs SMARTer Beings.

    :-) It may even be, such is the SurReal Nature of Advanced Analytical Algorithm for Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination, a Power residing in something as seemingly innocuous as a Web Page or a Collection of Directing Web Pages such as is the Register.

    "Open systems are chaotic and profitable," he says, "but only for those who understand them well and move faster than everyone else." ..... Amen to that Perl of Wisdom ...... which one must temper and fire, for unassailable and overwhelming lead in the Field with the Enigma of Speed being Delivered with Proper Planning and Preparation Preventing Piss Poor Performance Permitting Protocol Positioning with a Sane Disregard of Haste.

  14. ratfox
    Thumb Down

    I do trust Google somehow

    But whatever a marketeer like Rosenberg says, I will doubt by instinct.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mirror mirror

    Corporate narcissism

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The true meaning of 'open'

    The problem with this article isn't that it exposes 'evil' Google, but that the memo has been hacked to bits in order to make a point. The quoted material clearly establishes that Google are using 'open' in two distinct senses - Open Source Software and 'open' in a more general sense - but it gives the distinct impression that Rosenberg doesn't define the latter meaning of 'open' at all. However, having read the blog, this is clearly not the case. Cf. the following quote from the same blog:

    "There are two components to our definition of open: open technology and open information. Open technology includes open source ... and open standards ... Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information."

    From that it seems reasonably clear that Google are keen to promote OSS and open standards but aren't going to go completely OSS - an understandable decision given that they exist to make a profit. They are, however keen that when they have information about users they use it to provide something that is valuable to them - and therein lies the rub.

    The Internet is public domain and Google are a private enterprise making money from this public domain information. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this - The Register makes money from public domain information for example - but the question of public -vs- private is an increasingly vexed question when it comes to search engines.

    For example: I might not own my own name (cf. http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/do-i-own-my-name-or-is-it-public-domain--129124.html) but that doesn't mean that when I use it online I'm perfectly happy for it to be collected by some faceless search company so that some equally faceless marketing company can use that search engine and forever bring joy to my heart by offering me "a change in gas supplier", "online money management advice" or "gentleman's briefs for a trial period" (three actual and equally undesired phone calls I've received in the past month).

    Of course there's the argument that if I'm really concerned to protect my privacy maybe I shouldn't publish my details online, but this argument overlooks two important facts. Firstly there's the question of malicious - or public-spirited - publishing of private details to a public website by a third party. Secondly I don't particularly want to live the life of a secret agent because it sounds like a fucking miserable existence. What I want is to be able to live a life that's partly public and partly private, and to be free to live my private life without being bothered by whichever tedious arse has decided that today they feel good and would like to sell me {insert_unwanted_product}. I don't think this is an unreasonable request. Unfortunately from what I've read on the Google blog I think Jonathan Rosenberg would disagree with me.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Megaphone

    Collection System

    Google clearly is the largest and most efficient intelligence collection system ever invented. Their goal is to collect more and more. First it was "just" search - one can glean a lot about a person or business from search. Then they provided those "free" apps that let you store your email, your spreadsheets, your text chats, your presentations and your text documents on a Google server. The Android phone and the Chrome browser and the Chrome OS clearly lock the user into using Google storage, because the ultimate objective is the user's most private data.

    This clearly is just the latest incarnation of UKUSA intelligence collection and it works like a breeze.

    1. petur
      Thumb Down

      @joeuro

      "The Android phone and the Chrome browser and the Chrome OS clearly lock the user into using Google storage, because the ultimate objective is the user's most private data."

      I'm sorry to see you haven't yet found out yet how VERY EASY it is to get your data out of Google. They'll even offer you multiple ways to retrieve it. So where is that vendor lock-in you are talking about???

  18. Bassey

    Don't see the big deal

    I was sat here trying to think what I would do without google. Then I tried to think what I use them for. I use them for the odd search - but not all THAT often. I tend to flip between Yahoo, Bing and Google and don't find the results that different. I don't use GMail, calendar or anything you have to sign up for. I tried, but found the registration process a pain in the arse and gave up (I have a very low tolerance for such things). The only thing I use on a semi-regular basis is Froogle.co.uk - which I find to be generally better than other price-comparison sites. But that's maybe once every few months. I think I'd cope.

    Maybe I'm unusual, it's certainly not been a concious thing but I doubt my internet experience would be much different without them - other than, maybe, some sites would have to close without the adsense dollars.

  19. David Hicks
    Linux

    There are other non-open areas

    Like on android, the "unnofficial" distributions and the source releases don't have the app marketplace, nor do they have the google login service or a bunch of other bits and pieces.

    Nothing major, and android is definitely a step forward in the mobile marketplace, but they're certainly not as fully open as they'd have you believe.

  20. Blake St. Claire

    @Anton Ivanov

    > Associating data with an IP address is useless. 95% of consumer services are on dynamic

    > IPs and at least 50%+ of these kick the connection on regular basis (BT and Comcast for

    > example do it every 24h).

    Perhaps they do, but they -- or at least Comcast -- keeps giving me the same IP every time.

    It's so reliable that I can run my domain -- web server, mail server, etc. -- as if it were a permanent static IP.

    I can't remember the last time they renumbered the local network -- a couple years ago maybe? Other than that the only reason it changes is if you change your router, e.g. like I had to do recently when I switched VOIP providers for my land line. And probably if I had bothered to clone the old router's MAC addr in the new router then perhaps not even then.

  21. Doug Glass
    Go

    Simple

    "Do as I say, not do as I do". Very simply put, Google is a bully that believes in positional righteousness, that might makes right and that as long as they smile as they stab you in the back everything is OK.

    Time wounds all heels and Google's time is coming. Microsoft is getting its "just rewards" and Google will to.

    1. James Hughes 1

      How?

      Microsoft charge people who use their products.

      Most Google users do not pay anything.

      Most computer users have no alternative to Microsoft.

      Most computer users have an alternative to Google.

      Will it be possible for the same sort of comeuppance that MS have seen to be applied to Google? If so How? Someone who hasn't paid for a product they don't have to use cannot really sue, can they? Since that doesn't seem an option, what sanctions could be made against Google AND FOR WHAT REASON?

      Google are using public domain information for business purposes. Anyone here can do exactly the same thing if they want. Until world wide laws are put in to place to prevent whatever it is that Google are doing that all the people here don't appear to like (and what exactly are they doing that you cannot stop them from doing simply by not using them?), there doesn't seem much that can happen to them. And any laws introduced would also apply to all the other search engines out there.

      I really am intrigued by what people think Google are doing wrong, exactly.

  22. blackworx
    Boffin

    Cost of entry/lock-in etc.

    Ok, so people are saying zero cost of entry and no lock-in. Fair enough. The thing is, your average punter taken in by the marketing BS and free trinkets doesn't know they need to worry about privacy and doesn't know Google is making money off the back of their data.

    Not Google's fault? Maybe so, but Google knows the majority of its users are ignorant of these important issues, and it is in Google's interests to try to keep it this way, which they do. Ergo Google is heading to the dark side.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Yes, Google is evil

    I hate the fact that they seem to be bent on world domination.

    If fifteen years ago, you had told someone that sinister black cars would be prowling the streets taking photographs of everything, they'd think you were mad.

    In actual fact, you can live without Google. I do. There are umpteen search engines out there, which do just as good a job. I use Multimap for maps. It's fine. I don't need Gmail. I don't need yet another flavour of Linux (Chrome OS). I don't need their stupid Chrome browser.

    Evil bastards with their 30 year cookies, sucking up to the Chinese authorities whilst hoarding data on everyone and everything, scanning books and putting the content on line without even having the decency to get the publishers' permission.

    What is most sad, is that most people think search = Google and that there are no alternatives. Even people who work in IT and really should know better.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google is far from open

    but it uses a ton of open source, as do I, I am no fool.

    But, I hardly open source anything, I keep it mainly to myself and clients and just comply with the licences.

    I use to give security bug reports, but then I realised I could use those in the security side of it all. Sometimes I help out the new folk, but really only in the same vein as a drug dealer offers the first fix for free.

    I did contemplate open source communistard style for a while, but it sucked the big 'un, and most people are little shits anyhow, so why bother.

    I reciprocate well though, so I keep my eye open for the elite and don't bother with the rest. Long live the Bazaar.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    As everyone in SV knows

    Google = Evil.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Right to be concerned

    I recently worked at a small VOIP telco. Through our servers and billing records, we naturally recorded all sorts of data (user account, ip, number dialing from, number dialing to, call duration, time of day. . .). Both IP and phone number are subject to geolocation, and we had a legitimate use for that, so we did it. We didn't use the data evilly, but certainly our marketing team did get some aggregated views of where our callers and callees were distributed, and busy times of day.

    But, supposing that we were evil, and had had some serious statistics, we could certainly have uncovered social networks, seen what businesses were local to our users and sent them ads, detected when users were home for the holidays, or at work (based on ip change), monitored which users placed calls from the same IP and derived inferences about potential relationships (residential ip, therefore family/roomate vs commercial ip, therefore co-worker), etc. We could tell that this user is probably working third-shift because of when they are placing calls, and send them ads for coffee, or figure that they are some sort of professional phone user because of the duration and frequency of their calling. We could see who they call most often and infer a stronger relation between those two entities. I'm sure there are even more possibilities that I am not thinking of because I am not a statistician.

    My point is that even transactions that don't feel like they involve a handoff of information from the consumer side can be used to develop a fairly sophisticated model. I like google's services-- gmail is pretty slick, google maps works well and gives good directions, and google search is the best out there right now. But we should all put on our tinfoil hats when we think about the sort of shit google can throw together, e.g. in the innocuous example, where within a few minutes, shortly before 4:00 in the afternoon on friday, we google for a local boozer, get directions on google maps, and then send a g-mail to a friend to meet up. We then don't conduct any further transactions through google until maybe midnight (knocking off early, eh?). They have a whole stack that allows them to connect the dots, and unlike my piddling telco, they have access to very rich information through g-mail.

    I don't think that the general public has a clear understanding of what exactly google collects or what they do with that information. El Reg is right to hammer google for claiming any sort of openness or transparency about their information collection activities-- like looking inside the sausage factory, I think many of us would be uncomfortable to find out.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      It's called mosaic matching - standard intelligence stuff

      Congratulations, you're one of the few awake here..

      Mosaic matching is what is used to match up dissimilar datasets, and what some people don't seem to get is that it's not about ABSOLUTE matching, it's probability based.

      Given enough data (and Google is well on its way) it's feasible that Google (and those behind it) could predict with a 98% probability that, say, MPs with certain behavioural characteristics WILL abuse an expense system when it's left uncontrolled. Or could be bribed or blackmailed.

      There is a worrying amount of data collected by Google, which increases the accuracy of the model. What that data is going to be used for is what matters, and that use can change without you being aware.

      Don't want to pay for Google Ads any more? You may get a Gmail asking if that has anything to do with your frequent purchase of condoms and flowers in the vicinity of the red light district (your iPhone MobileMe account knows where you are, and so does ECHELON), and it may give you a special discount if you continue, or an accidental email to your wife and employer if you don't (read their Terms of Service, you HAVE given permission for this). Oh, and GoogleDNS may accidentally forget about your domain name - Google could turn you and your business into non-existence..

      That's just a benign example. Imagine them teaming up with "Lord" Mandelson..

      Anon because it's enough that El Reg knows who I am..

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Anonymity ....... a Quaint Concept long since Passed into Memory and Record Archives

        "That's just a benign example. Imagine them teaming up with "Lord" Mandelson.." ... Anonymous Coward Posted Thursday 24th December 2009 11:35 GMT

        AC,

        Can you imagine the mountain of information for manipulation being held on all those little Hitlers just to keep them toeing the line. And how so very sad that the Intelligence which uses and abuses it, is so pathetically poor and ...... well, depressingly unimaginative would be so accurate too.

        The problem in all such cases is right at the top of the pyramid tree, for there would be entrenched a deluded and delusional cuckoo rather than a high flyer of a golden eagle.

  27. ceilingcrash

    searching isn't like security

    Of course google shouldn't open source their 'search algorithm' (this is, PageRank.) The author's arguments that they should are entirely ad hominem and confused, claiming that closing this algorithm reeks of microsoft, and comparing PageRank to system security.

    The fact remains that if google open-source's PageRank, spammers will game the algorithm in droves (which they continutally try to do without the source.) Search quality will suffer and the best gamers rise to the top. Consumers lose.

    Unlike a security hole in an operating system, which can simply be patched without degrading the system, the only counterattack to PageRank-gaming is to arbitrarily change the algorithm which necessarily weakens search results. This already happens to some extent to due existing gaming without benefit of the source. And not even this would work if the algorithm was open sourced, the spammers would instantly adjust.

    A system can be made secure by closing all known holes; a ranking algorithm cannot be rendered ungame-able, by mathematical necessity.

    So you don't publish it.

  28. Adrian Midgley 1
    Flame

    SEO is not done in my interests

    I would much prefer that everyone who is trying to get their web page to appear first in the list I see stopped doing so.

    Because they are trying to show me what they want to sell me, rather than what I say I want to buy (or red or find out or contribute to ... ).

    Google does a good job of finding from Web pages which correctly describe what they are about, the pages dealing with what I tell it in my search term I am interested in.

    SEO shades from comon sense into advertising and on to fraud, and I'd as soon anything beyond common sense was banned.

    Of course the SEO types want to know the exact algorithms Google uses, so they can make their pages appear different from what they are, so as to confuse fool and irritate people. It is barely different from spam.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Troll

    same ole same ole

    > Google has sent itself a memo as part of an ongoing effort to perpetuate the self-delusion that it's the world's most open company ..

    I stopped reading past there .. merry CHRIST~1 reg staff .. :)

    --

    Main advert .. "Microsoft | our mail has two way sync"

  30. Ian Michael Gumby
    Big Brother

    Google is what Google does.

    Ok, so its a 'Forrest Gumpian' statement. The point is that only in hind sight can you judge the actions of a company in terms of 'good' or 'evil'. Companies will always attempt to act in what they believe as their 'best interest'. (And that in of itself is a complex gray issue...)

    The interesting thing is this comment:

    "Jonathan Rosenberg acknowledges that Google's view of open is profitable. But he fails to mention this wouldn't be the case without the closed. The way he sees it, the profits come because Google is smarter than everyone else. "Open systems are chaotic and profitable," he says, "but only for those who understand them well and move faster than everyone else."

    "

    You have to remember that TANSTAAFL applies. Open Systems are in essence a 'free lunch' for Google because by releasing code in to the 'open' they are able to create enough of a critical mass that they can get support and development for 'free'. (Ok so they 'seed' the market so its not truly 'free'.) Google is capable of reducing their costs by 'openness' of non-essential systems which can be repurposed by other organizations/companies thus doing 'good'.

    If Google sees a competitive advantage in keeping code 'in house', ie closed, they will do so. Keeping proprietary code in house is neither bad nor 'evil', so they are still true to their motto.

    If you want to consider the motives of google in terms of 'good' or 'evil' then consider this comment... ' The greatest trick of the devil is to convince people that he didn't exist.' ;-)

    If you believe that Google is trying to convince people that they are not always acting in their own self serving best interest, then you can say that Google is indeed acting 'evil'.

    But hey! What do I know?

    I'm just some guy... ;-)

  31. Bucky 2
    Heart

    Hmm....

    I think that picture makes Jonathan Rosenberg look kind of dishy.

    Am I going to hell for that?

  32. DR

    I for one am glad that google don't open source their page rank system

    I'm glad that they don't open source page rank.

    The reason:

    at the moment any website that anyone writes can hit the number one spot based on the quality of that site, the way that the site is put together, the quality of the article, keyword prevalence, and the amount of people that 'rate' the article and link back to it.

    it means that regular people can write a site and they have every chance of getting ranked towards the top of google.

    Open the page rank system and you open the possibility that people will be able to game the system.

    so the search engine optimised spammers pages get to be top ranking pages.

    Then the people that were just creating a website end up having to employ the services of the same SEO spammers in order to get their page to the top.

    Open source page rank and you create a mercenary SEO industry that will stifle the ability of google to return useful search results, instead of just a lot of craftily made pages selling Viagra rather that giving information.

  33. Don Mitchell

    Open Propaganda

    Companies like Google, Oracle and IBM use open source for purely propaganda value. They use the open source meme in their battle with Microsoft and Apple, to shift the market away from personal computing and more toward centralized server-based computing.

    But when it comes to their real family jewels -- Google search software, IBM and Oracle's database systems -- they are not open source at all. This kind of hypocracy is widespread. Few people (including the many liberal journalists and college professors who go on about open source) will sacrifice their own intellectual property, but are quick to pontificate, feign altruistism, and point at the professional programming or artist communities demanding that *they* collectivize their labor and property for the good of society.

  34. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I didn't see the problem....

    I didn't see the problem with (what was excerpted from) his memo. It is troubling that google could be collecting all sorts of data. But, short of using encrypted connections point-to-point to exchange data.. I mean, search, webmail, etc., is probably similarly datamined by anyone else too. I personally pull my e-mail to my desktop and read it with pine (now with alpine), but my ISP could still be mining through it I suppose.

    As for "open".. well, you know, I don't expect google to open source everything.

    Regarding pagerank, "Security through obscurity" doesn't work, but I also don't think this is like a conventional system security problem either... I think rather than having "more eyes" on the problem, which is helpful for finding and fixing security flaws... instead, an important element of pagerank in terms of reducing google spamming has been that it's an opaque box, spammers don't know when the algorithm has been changed, and don't know for sure if something they try will in fact derank their pages instead of improving rank. With the code open, they'd know exactly what works and what doesn't.

    I don't expect google to open the search, indexing, and distributed computing software either. It'd be nice but it's not sensible. 1) From what I've heard it's EXTREMELY customized to google anyway -- I doubt most of it's in a form suitable to just put into a tarball and distribute. 2) They already release patches that are of any general interest (i.e. improvements and bug fixes for the kernel and other software, a opposed to just changing in-source tunable parameters.) 3) There already is enough software to functionally duplicate google's system (hadoop, linux kernel, etc. allow a full MapReduce cluster to be set up.) Google has a stack like this, it is just HEAVILY HEAVILY optimized. This optimized code is frankly the lifeblood of the company, as much open source software as they release, I really can't give them grief for not releasing one of their biggest assets. I mean, if they did, Microsoft for instance could simply outspend them on data centers, and then use google's own software stack against them.

  35. Martin Usher
    Thumb Up

    Open Source is not just about code

    To me, Open Source is about transparency, about published interface standards and common code behavior. Open Source code helps in defining those standards. Its not about giving away the farm but it is about making a common set of building blocks available to everyone so that we can all be farm builders.

    Many corporations, big and small, just don't 'get' open source. They feel that intellectual property is like physical property, its something that you grab as much of as you can and then defend that property from all comers. They still have the old West mindset where the bison are endless, the land uninhabited, limitless horizons to exploit. They haven't figured out that this was an illusion -- the land wasn't uninhabited, the bison disappeared, the horizons are finiite and that the only development that's sustainable involves work, adding value. Google seems to have figured it out which is why they're prospering. (Now all they need to do is employ a Ballimer like figure as CEO and within a decade it will be a shadow of its former self....)

  36. devnull
    WTF?

    Come on, whats with all this pettyness

    I'm seriously starting to wonder who in the register got dumped by a chick from google or something similar.

    I mean whats with all this google hate?

    Valid issues would be interesting but criticizing google because its openness does not extend to allowing people to look at how the advertising and search engines work seems quite petty. After all that functionality is the bread and butter for google.

    What possible reason would they want to give it away?

    I mean there is open and there is just dumb.

    And speaking as both a web developer (For another company entirely) and a website user thank god they dont make it available.

    I still remember back in the early 2000's when webmasters could game the search algorithm so much that searching for information about C++ would provide results linking to girls doing nasty things to goats; on the first page no less.

    It wont be the legitimate websites that spend an insane amount of time going through the hundreds of thousands of lines of code looking for exploits in the algorithms. It will be the malicious, fraudulent or just plain greedy.

    This would result in an arms race between Google, legitimate websites and malicious sites which no one (users especially) really wants.

    Yes they are a company. Yes that means that they actually have to make money.

    Yes they make money from advertisers and they do so by offering the advertiser the ability to pay for the ad based on what the advertiser thinks it is worth.

    Why do people get upset about that? Whats next anger at EMC for charging for disk on a usage basis? Or IBM charging support based on active CPUs? The point of charging models is to come up with a model both the vendor and the custom get benefit from. And lets face it if the customer did not get benefit from advertising with google they wouldn't.

    All this spite and bitterness is resulting in is if google does actually do something bad it will get lost in all the whining about how google isn't open enough, how it runs on data and how it wont let people game the system.

    That is assuming that hasn't happened already.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google propaganda

    They are still behind Sun and IBM so they are not ""the largest open source contributor in the world."

  38. TimePilot84
    WTF?

    Where does this notion of Google having to be Open come from?

    I've never heard anything about Google as a company that they somehow need to or commit to being more open than any other company. In fact, on their corporate web site, they merely state that they "are active in open source software development, where innovation takes place through the collective effort of many programmers", which as far as I can tell they in fact are. Nothing in their corporate statements says anything about them needing to open anything, except that they are active in open source software development.

    So where is this B.S. coming from? Did someone just assume that Google would open everything? Did someone make up some fanciful open source code of conduct that Google should adhere to? Tell you what, if you don't like what Google's doing, make your own, better search algorithm and release it to the world. Make your own, better ad serving software. Build a billion dollar company around these technologies and feel free to make them open source. Show Google how wrong they are. Or better yet, just stand in the peanut gallery and tell everyone what a horrible company they are and what huge mistakes they are making and that you'd do so much of a better job if you were king of it all.

  39. DV1

    Your logic does not compute

    Comparing the concept of 'security through obscurity' to Google's obfuscation of their search algorithms is EXTREMELY non-sensical:

    The reason why 'open security' works is that one cannot decipher encrypted messages that use modern public-key cryptography, because the actual encryption and decryption depends on several (very large) unique numbers that are actually required to be 'obscured', and NOT on the method itself. There is still 'obscurity' - it is shifted to a different level (that of private or secret keys).

    Page-rank and search algorithms do not fall into the same category because, unlike encryption and decryption algorithms, they operate directly on the content itself, and not on separate, obscured entities like private keys. Therefore, advertising the actual logic of how each page is ranked is not possible without giving away the 'keys' to highly-ranked pages, which would in turn, allow anyone to artificially boost ANY page.

  40. Drak

    is the author of this article trying to live up to be like Richard Stallman?

    Richard Stallman and his FSF hold up an admirable ideal, that ALL software should be open source. Nothing wrong with that, but in very few cases does a pure open source model work in business, but rather both open and closed source have their place. But to call this memo a "delusion" is in itself a delusion. Google has given away a lot of great software and given away some important source code to the community (ie Android, Go programming language). Please give Google a break and give them some credit for what theyve done.

  41. Robert Grant Silver badge

    "preternaturally"

    Please stop using this word. It's appropriate in the very fewest of occasions. In other words: is your surname Lovecraft? No? Right then.

  42. zedenne
    Alert

    search should be open

    I think the argument that search has to be closed for SPAM reasons is a very seductive one, but still rather misguided.

    As an operator of a number of websites I am in complete thrall to google. They have 95%+ of the search market. Lots of people are employing SEO methods to increase rankings and as such I have no choice but to follow. If our sites are not on page 1 then we don't get customers. We don't get customers we don't eat. etc.

    However these services are for the most part snake oil. Complete BS. This exists because nobody really knows the rules.

    If you look at the way email operates (still bigger than HTTP traffic I think) there are a number of providers of ANTI-SPAM software (from small to large) which operate on understood rules. Why could there not be an equivalent set of software available to me to help filter out SPAM sites?

    Surely it would be better if the "army of good guys" (myself included) could be in a position to help improve the rules that govern spam. To act as a community to help remove bad sites?

    Maybe this is pie-in-the-sky but in my experience solutions worked out collectively tend to last longer and have less negatives than closed-door solutions.

    And i second the call for both Holy and Evil google icons. I want one.

  43. Thomas Glover

    I'm with devnull

    If Google don't want to release the code they use in their search engine (ie the same code that's made them the leading search engine) then that's their prerogative.

    Sure, it looks a bit silly to then turn round and say "we're so open because we release code for other bits and bobs", but at least they do share some stuff. They don't have to, after all.

    Why exactly is this worthy of a full-length frant feature? Or am I missing something?

  44. wayne 8
    Terminator

    just another corporation

    The article main point is that Google acts no different than any other for profit corp., in its own self interest. Any openness is just enough to give the appearance of benevolence towards all and malice towards none.

  45. ACParson
    WTF?

    Bullshit at it's highest peak

    I just checked my stuff via Google Dashboard. That crap about "Anonymizing your data after 9 months"? A lie. My web history (which I don't remember signing up for, in the first place), goes all the way back to 2006!!!

    I may start anonymizing my web information myself from this point on, bastards.....

    I third the suggestion for the Google Halo/Horn images.

  46. Oli 1
    FAIL

    more hate from el reg

    i really wonder about some of your reporters, either, as someone mentioned before, your google employed lady friend dumped you, google themselves rejected to or you just have it in for the new big boys!

    Google dont have to open anything, and expecting them to open ad words and search is just plain ridiculous, go back to basic business school and learn yourself!

    Without google we'd all still be with our crappy 2mb hotmail accounts!

    "Journalistic FAIL"

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