Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

seriously though

So, before anyone throws a fit about my Google-HeavenSearch fake news item, I just wanted to say a couple of things.

No, I'm not dismissing any of the issues. I'm just saying that it seems to me pretty hypocrytical all the immense attention that is being given to the privacy concerns (which exist) regarding Google when there are way more pressing concerns in many other areas. Other search engines. Other identity systems. Airline reservation systems. Credit card systems.

Yes, even I haven't been always raising these issues in unison, but they should be. Privacy breaks down at the weakest point, not just for Google.

For example, lots of attention has been given to Google not "guaranteeing" that an email in GMail will actually be completely deleted. But let's be realistic. Have Microsoft or Yahoo! or AOL ever guaranteed that? Not that I'm aware of.

Writing in, Declan McCullagh has one of the few fairly balanced views that I've seen on the topic. He rightly points to the real problem, which is centralized systems, not Google in particular. (See also here). If you want something to be fully private, then just don't use, say, a webmail account for it.

Some of the complaints, however, have had to do with the precedent that this sets. Precedent? When companies like Gator provide software that is installed on millions of machines and basically acts like a Trojan to track behavior? When most email messages exchanged travel unencrypted through the Internet?

Come on.

Yes, these are real issues. But it's not a Google problem alone. It's structural to the kind of service being provided, part of its nature. I've tried GMail (I will hopefully have time to comment on that specifically later) and Google is doing something basically similar to others, improving on several respects (and a number of very cool ideas), changing others, and still lagging behind on some.

For me the solution is clear: decentralization, plus end-to-end encryption at the application level based on public-key infrastructure. Centralized systems have their pros and cons, as anything--and it seems that these days it is too easy to imagine that they have to be good (and perfect) for everything, and even more, that a single company has to be responsible for fixing all that's wrong in the world.

Okay, diatribe finished. :-))

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12, 2004 at 7:02 PM

google announces HeavenSearch, partially disclaims deity status

This from the fake-as-news dept:

(for immediate release)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA, April 2004.

Google Inc. revealed today a new product called HeavenSearch ( that, in accordance to the company's oft-discussed reach into theological depths, will allow users to search the information contained in Paradise and alternative otherwordly venues.

"We're really excited about this product," said a Google official. "People have been talking for a while about whether Google is God and so on. And they're not totally off the mark. Our cookies see everywhere and everything, even beyond Death. Beyond Taxes too. We wanted to make this wealth of information available to users." The initial product, released as a beta (as is standard Google practice), will start off by searching through the Christian Heaven. Plans are in place, however, to provide search facilities for other major Religions' pleasant afterlife locations.

And what about Hell?

"We're not going there," said a developer that worked on the project. "Our motto is 'Do no Evil'. Obviously that precludes searching through Hell," and then noted, "we've wondered about Limbo though."

Privacy advocates were outraged at the very notion. "This is a disastrous development. Between search, mail, shopping, news, and now religion, Google's cookies are becoming all-powerful entities. The Google cookie is the greatest threat to our way of life since Oreos were invented. The Pope should be worried about the Googleplex, too."

The Vatican declined to comment.

The Google Official wondered: "So we're terrible, but, say, AOL, or Microsoft, or Yahoo aren't an issue at all? Passport? The Windows Registration System? AIM? ICQ? MSN Messenger? Ads everywhere? Pop-ups? Pop-unders? Instertitial ads? Paid-for-search results? Credit Card information in a server in Redmond somewhere? Why is it that all this brouhaha applies to Google only?"

To which the privacy advocates replied (in unison): "Oh, because AOL, Microsoft, and everyone else basically are good companies. We have nothing to fear from them!". One of them added "Plus, those companies... you know, they're pretty harmless. They just have tens of billions of dollars in cash and dominant, locked-in, fiercely defended positions on their markets. Just look at Microsoft, they just had to pay Sun Microsystems something like two billion dollars. Now they've only got 54 billion left!." Another interjected. "Right. These companies aren't God or anything like that," after which he dropped to his knees and, eyes closed, head down, hands to chin, started mumbling search-engine queries.

"I see," said the Google Official when hearing this, as he dug out some M&Ms from an open bowl on the table, then proceeded to sit down at a nearby massage chair.

So is Google, really, really God now?

"We're not like, God-God, you know? After all, we had nothing to do with the creation of the Universe and all living things." The official said, his voice vibrating in unison with the massage chair, disclaiming Google's incipient deity status, and added cryptically "That was there before us."

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on April 12, 2004 at 6:53 PM

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