News

Posted in Legal Troubles

Ex-Google employees refuse to go away quietly into the night

Retaliation? It sure sounds like it.

The four worker-activists who were fired by Google during Thanksgiving week plan to file federal charges alleging that their former employer fired them to quash worker organizing, in violation of federal labor laws.

Google told its staff of approximately 100,000 last week that the employees were fired for “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies”, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg. But in defiant interviews with the Guardian on Monday, the workers rejected that justification as a pretext.

“Google fired us not just to target us, but to send a message to other employees in the company,” said Sophie Waldman, one of the fired software engineers.

The National Labor Relations Board has been asked to investigate.

Posted in War on Privacy

Google whistleblower: “The medical data of millions of Americans is at risk”

A chilling must-read:

Here I was working with senior management teams on both sides, Google and Ascension, creating the future. That chimed with my overall conviction that technology really does have the potential to change healthcare for the better.

But over time I grew increasingly concerned about the security and privacy aspects of the deal. It became obvious that many around me in the Nightingale team also shared those anxieties.

After a while I reached a point that I suspect is familiar to most whistleblowers, where what I was witnessing was too important for me to remain silent. Two simple questions kept hounding me: did patients know about the transfer of their data to the tech giant? Should they be informed and given a chance to opt in or out?

The answer to the first question quickly became apparent: no. The answer to the second I became increasingly convinced about: yes. Put the two together, and how could I say nothing?

So much is at stake. Data security is important in any field, but when that data relates to the personal details of an individual’s health, it is of the utmost importance as this is the last frontier of data privacy.

Read the whole thing in its entirety, then read it again.

Huge props to the whistleblower for having the courage to stand up to the Monster of Mountain View, their employer, and defend the public interest against surveillance capitalism. What a public service.

Posted in Undependable Support

Ars Technica commenter lampoons Google’s undependable product support

A very astute observation:

The giant hulking dumpsters of cancelled Google products, many of which had dedicated user bases, would seem to indicate that not even Google really understands how Google makes these decisions. At this point, nobody with a functioning brain cell trusts any new Google product as part of a long-term project, product or ecosystem…

There’s even a website that tracks products that Google has killed off. It’s rather extensive.

While the odds that Google will pull the plug on its search engine, Gmail, Chrome browser, Android, YouTube, or Google Docs are slim, most of the company’s other offerings are fair game for elimination at any time. By steering clear of reliance on Google’s offerings, you can protect yourself and your data well into the future.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly, War on Privacy

Google admits to secret partnership with health insurance giant Ascension

This is very disturbing:

Google has signed a health care data and cloud computing deal with Ascension, a move that gives the search-engine giant access to health-related information of millions of Americans, helping it refine potentially lucrative artificial intelligence tools.

Clayton-based Ascension is the nation’s second-biggest health care provider by number of hospitals, with facilities in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

The partnership, first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Monday, will also explore artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to help improve clinical effectiveness as well as patient safety, Ascension said in a statement.

Google and Ascension claim that their partnership complies with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, but we doubt that’s true. There’s no way that Google — with its awful record of waging war on user privacy and gobbling up information for suspect purposes — can be trusted with the health records of millions of Americans.

People who have a relationship with Ascension should be outraged that the company did not get their permission before inking this deal with Google.

The federal and state governments should open an investigation into this arrangement immediately.

MORE FROM ARS TECHNICA…

Google: You can trust us with the medical data you didn’t know we already had

Posted in War on Privacy

Google gobbles up Fitbit for $2.1 billion

More personal data on millions of people? Yes, please! Gulp, slurp, lipsmack:

Google said on Friday that it is acquiring Fitbit, the maker of fitness-tracking devices, for $2.1 billion to close the gap with Apple in the growing market for wearable electronics and to add muscle to its expanding hardware business.

The deal is likely to face regulatory scrutiny from agencies already investigating Google for antitrust concerns, because Fitbit collects sensitive health and activity information from users through the device. Heading off a potentially thorny point, Google said it would not use health data gleaned from Fitbit devices in its core advertising business.

That’s a worthless promise. The Monster of Mountain View will say whatever it needs to say right now to get this acquisition through. A few years down the line, they can change course and there’ll presumably be nothing to stop them.

Buying Fitbit is part of Google’s play to compete with Apple in every market segment Apple is in. The Cupertino giant designs phones, tablets, computers, and smartwatches, and has them made in Asia for markets the world over. Google used to be purely a search, advertising, and software services company, but it has expanded into phones (with its Pixel line) and partnered with companies to Dell to make what are called “Chromebooks” (dumbed down computers that don’t run a proper operating system and aren’t cheaper than computers running Windows). It also bought Nest so it would have a lineup of “smart home” devices.

Now it wants to own Fitbit.

This acquisition is not in the public interest. Fitbit may want to sell itself, but it should not belong to a company that is waging a war on privacy. People’s personal health information says a lot about them, and there’s no way Google can be trusted to look after that information. Monetizing information about people is what Google does. It’s why the company exists.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Google continues to funnel vast sums to notorious climate deniers

Via Boing Boing, here’s Cory Doctorow:

Google and the other big tech companies are some of the most lavish funders of climate denial “think tanks” and lobbying groups, something they’ve been at continuously for more than six years, without interruption.

Google doesn’t fund these lobbyists because they’re climate deniers, nor because they’re indifferent to climate change and its human costs.

Google funds these lobbyists and astroturf operations because they also lobby for lax tax enforcement, lax labor laws, lax privacy laws, and so on. The fact that these groups also lobby for the right of corporations to render our planet uninhabitable (as well as against the rights of LGBTQ people, against reproductive freedom for women, etc) is merely an acceptable cost of greasing the skids to allow Big Tech to seek profits at the expense of their workers, suppliers, customers and society.

Read the whole thing.

As the excerpt above states, Google is not the only big company doing this. They’re all doing it, and it’s wrong. Very wrong.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Fifty U.S. jurisdictions announce sweeping antitrust investigation into Google

Looooooooong overdue!

Fifty U.S. states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google’s “potential monopolistic behavior.”

The Monday announcement closely followed one from a separate group of states Friday that disclosed an investigation into Facebook’s market dominance. The two probes widen the antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations and enforcement action by European regulators.

Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson, a Republican, said at a press conference held in Washington that 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google.”

It shouldn’t have taken this long.

The EU has for years been shouldering responsibility for investigating Google’s abusive business practices and its war on privacy while U.S. authorities have looked the other way. The Monster of Mountain View essentially got a free pass from the Obama administration.

But those days are now over.

Bring on the investigation, the regulatory scrutiny, and the antitrust enforcement.

Long overdue!

Posted in Shoddy Security

Major security holes found in Google’s Nest

Don’t use “smart home” technology. Just don’t.

After last week’s heated debate about whether Google Nest owners should be able to turn off their webcam’s recording LED, this week they have something more conventional to worry about – security flaws.

The list of vulnerabilities recently discovered by Cisco Talos researchers relate to one model, the Nest Cam IQ Indoor camera.

As $249 webcams go, this one has plenty of features, including a 4K resolution sensor, facial recognition, noise and echo cancellation, and Google’s Voice Assistant integration to control other Nest products.

There are eight CVE-level vulnerabilities in total, five relating to the Weave protocol binary built into the camera (used to set it up), and three in the Openweave interface (this being the open source version of Weave).

Some of these exploits allow the device to be taken over, or hijacked.

Google claims it’s patching the affected hardware, but cautions that updates may take a while to roll out.

Meanwhile, lots of Nest users are still angry about Google’s decision to cripple the toggle for the Nest cam’s LED status light.

Posted in Menacing Monopoly

Robert Epstein: To break Google’s monopoly on search, make its index public

Could making Google’s search index public reduce the threat that it poses without breaking up the company? Robert Epstein thinks so.

Different tech companies pose different kinds of threats. I’m focused here on Google, which I’ve been studying for more than six years through both experimental research and monitoring projects. (Google is well aware of my work and not entirely happy with me. The company did not respond to requests for comment.)

Google is especially worrisome because it has maintained an unopposed monopoly on search worldwide for nearly a decade. It controls 92 percent of search, with the next largest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, drawing only 2.5%.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index” — the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content — into a kind of public commons.

There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on — no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them.

An interesting idea, certainly one worthy of further discussion.

Doesn’t Google already share its index with everyone in the world? Yes, but only for single searches. I’m talking about requiring Google to share its entire index with outside entities — businesses, nonprofit organizations, even individuals — through what programmers call an application programming interface, or API.

Perhaps we’d all be better off if our laws caught up with the times and required companies like Google to make certain information available through APIs, just as public agencies must provide records in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Posted in War on Privacy

Google Chrome was always a surveillance browser

Washington Post columnist Geoffrey Fowler has decided he’s done with Chrome because he doesn’t like being spied on:

You open your browser to look at the Web. Do you know who is looking back at you?

Over a recent week of Web surfing, I peered under the hood of Google Chrome and found it brought along a few thousand friends. Shopping, news and even government sites quietly tagged my browser to let ad and data companies ride shotgun while I clicked around the Web.

This was made possible by the Web’s biggest snoop of all: Google. Seen from the inside, its Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.

It’s wonderful that Fowler has seen the light. It’s a shame it took him so long.

Google Chrome has always been surveillance software. It didn’t become one — it has always been a means by which the Monster of Mountain View can vacuum up user data. That’s why it was created.

This site is over ten years old and has been warning that Google is “the web’s biggest snoop of all” for the entirety of that time. People in the tech press have known that surveillance underpins Google’s business model, yet they have chosen to use and recommend Google’s offerings anyway.

It seems like that is starting to change.

For Fowler, the last straw is Google’s refusal to protect users by limiting the extent to which cookies can be used for tracking purposes.

Google itself, through its Doubleclick and other ad businesses, is the No. 1 cookie maker — the Mrs. Fields of the Web. It’s hard to imagine Chrome ever cutting off Google’s moneymaker.

Like Matthew Green, he also felt betrayed when Google modified Chrome to make automatic sign-ins the default.

I felt hoodwinked when Google quietly began signing Gmail users into Chrome last fall. Google says the Chrome shift didn’t cause anybody’s browsing history to be “synced” unless they specifically opted in — but I found mine was being sent to Google and don’t recall ever asking for extra surveillance.

And so he has made the switch to Firefox.

Let’s hope many more people do likewise.