Posted in Poor Quality Assurance

Google’s Autocomplete causing big problems

More trouble for Google in Europe: The Monster of Mountain View is being sued by the spouse of a former German leader who is upset that the search giant’s autocomplete feature suggests demeaning terms like prostitute and escort when her name is typed in. She’s going to court demanding that Google do something about this, and it’s possible she just might win.

Despite Google’s past court victories, this case isn’t necessarily clear-cut, says Thomas Nuthmann, a lawyer at German law firm JBB Rechtsanwaelte. “Under German law, it’s likely that, at the very least, once Google knows that its autocorrect is generating results that present Frau Wulff in a bad light, they become responsible for making changes in her specific case,” he says, adding that, in Germany, famous people have the same protection against defamation as regular people when it comes to their private lives (unless they purposely make their private lives public). “It doesn’t mean [Google has] to shut down its technology altogether—just that it would have to at least disable the results linking words like ‘prostitute’ and ‘Bettina Wulff.’”

It;s unlikely such a lawsuit would ever be filed against Google in the United States. But of course, European law is different. If Google wishes to operate in Europe, it must abide by European law.


Posted in Poor Quality Assurance, Undependable Support

Gmail goes down, again

Whole lotta people inconvenienced this morning:

Google’s e-mail service, Gmail, is being reported as offline for many people this morning.

The extent and cause of the outage isn’t known at the moment. It is not a complete outage, but Twitter is abuzz with reports from users unable to access the Web service.

Users seem to be reporting mostly outages in accounts. Users of Google business e-mail accounts (Google Apps) are also reporting issues. Google’s Apps status dashboard reports, “We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Mail. We will provide more information shortly.”

Other services, such as Google Docs and Google+, also appear unusable for those who are unable to access Gmail.

Google has tried to encourage the belief that its offerings have rock-solid reliability, but the truth is, they don’t. This isn’t the first Gmail outage, and it won’t be the last. There’s no good reason for anyone to trust the Monster of Mountain View with their email.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance, Shoddy Security

City of Los Angeles demands partial refund from Google; LAPD says Google Apps not secure

The City of Los Angeles made a big mistake when it decided to do business with the Monster of Mountain View. Now the city is trying to get a partial refund from Google because some of its departments refuse to use Google’s insecure Apps offering:

Two years after the City of Los Angeles approved a $7.25 million deal to move its e-mail and productivity infrastructure to Google Apps, the migration has still not been completed because the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies are unsatisfied with Google’s security related to the handling of criminal history data.

Los Angeles officials originally expected to roll Google Apps out to its 30,000 users by June 2010, in partnership with systems integration contractor CSC. But that number has been reduced to about 17,000 employees, largely because of security objections raised by the LAPD and other safety-related departments. Advocacy group Consumer Watchdog opposed the deal, and this week released a letter LA officials sent to CSC in August, which states “The City is in receipt of your letter dated May 13, 2011, wherein CSC indicates that it is unable to meet the security requirements of the City and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for all data and information, pursuant to U.S. DOJ Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) policy requirements.”

Google has a poor reputation when it comes to privacy and security. That’s because Google’s business model is built on collecting as much user data as possible and monetizing it. Google’s response to security problems has been to collect even more personal information; these days, Gmail users are asked to associate their mobile phone numbers with their Google accounts, all in the name of improved security.

Of course, if a person who uses only GoogleTech loses their Android phone, their email, contacts, web history, and so much more could all be compromised simultaneously. That’s the danger of trusting one company with your data.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance

Proof that Google Places is a joke

The New York Times has another tale of Google crowdsourcing gone awry. It seems that some people are using a “feature” on Google Places to falsely report that a competing business has closed up shop and gone away. It’s a system that’s easily abused:

In mid-August, a search consultant and blogger named Mike Blumenthal was so rankled by what he considered Google’s cavalier attitude to closings on Google that he committed an act of online disobedience: He “closed” Google’s offices in Mountain View, Calif. For a brief period, Google itself was “reportedly closed,” according to Places. “I did it to point out how annoying this is when it happens,” he said.

Excellent, Mike. Most excellent!

On Aug. 15, Mr. Blumenthal posted a screen shot of Google’s Places page “reportedly closed,” noting that it took just two people — him and a friend — to pull off this stunt. It seemed to get the company’s attention. At least one change to closings on Places has already been made. Since late August, a business that is newly tagged “permanently closed,” receives an alert via e-mail from Google, informing the business owner of the change.

The New York Times article ends, however, by noting that some frustrated business owners have been unable to get the Monster of Mountain View to remove malicious “closed” and “permanently closed” notices despite repeated emails and phone calls. Why does that not surprise us?

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance, War on Privacy

Google’s “Chromebooks” are the very definition of Treacherous Computing

Some years ago, free software pioneer Richard Stallman penned an essay asking users, “Can You Trust Your Computer?” He wrote:

Who should your computer take its orders from? Most people think their computers should obey them, not obey someone else. With a plan they call “trusted computing”, large media corporations (including the movie companies and record companies), together with computer companies such as Microsoft and Intel, are planning to make your computer obey them instead of you. (Microsoft’s version of this scheme is called Palladium.) Proprietary programs have included malicious features before, but this plan would make it universal.

He added:

In the past, these were isolated incidents. “Trusted computing” would make the practice pervasive. “Treacherous computing” is a more appropriate name, because the plan is designed to make sure your computer will systematically disobey you. In fact, it is designed to stop your computer from functioning as a general-purpose computer. Every operation may require explicit permission.

Emphasis is LGB’s.

Google has now officially joined the league of companies engaged in what Richard justifiably calls treacherous computing schemes. The Monster of Mountain View is planning to debut a device it calls the Chromebook, which is basically a dumbed-down laptop running Google software which obeys Google instead of the user it supposedly belongs to. H-Online notes:

It is currently unclear if the Chromebooks will have a “developer” switch on them as Google’s CR-48 device did; the switch allowed users to install different operating systems or modified versions of Chrome OS on the device. Chromebooks are designed to use the TPM chips on the motherboard to perform a Verified Boot on the device and if it detects tampering, it will replace the installed operating system with a known good instance automatically; the developer switch on the CR-48 prevented that from happening.

In other words, the hardware in the “Chromebooks” has been intentionally designed to prevent hacking. (Hacking, in the traditional sense, refers to a user’s freedom to tinker, it doesn’t mean harming anybody else’s equipment or services). Somebody who buys a Chromebook is thus not free to repurpose the hardware and use it for something else, because Google has programmed the motherboard to obey Google and not the user.

Even if the “Chromebooks” do contain a “developer switch” like the CR-48 prototype did, there’s no justification for putting hardware-based digital restrictions management into a computer.

Of course, the rationale for the restrictions is simple. Google wants to be sure that people who buy “Chromebooks” use them to access Google products and services.

That way, Google can continually spy on their “customers”.

Google’s behavior here is simply more proof that it is no better than Microsoft or Apple, the leading proprietary software companies (or Electronic Arts, which has stopped selling games and now only rents them out). But unlike Apple or Microsoft, Google is using free software to advance the evil of treacherous computing. What they are doing is outrageous and immoral.

It is time for the free software movement to rise up against Google and recognize it as the greedy, freedom-undermining, privacy-destroying corporation that it is.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance, Undependable Support

Now you see it, now you don’t: Google “glitch” renders email inaccessible for 150,000 Gmail users

In another sign that quality assurance has gone downhill at Google, several media outlets are reporting that a “glitch” in the Monster of Mountain View’s Gmail product has resulted in an estimated one hundred and fifty thousand users temporarily losing access to all their email:

Google, we have a problem. About 150,000 Gmail account holders woke up to a nightmare this morning, with all their e-mail, attachments and Google Chat logs gone. What happened?

Google explains that “less than 0.08%” of all Gmail users were affected by the bug, which completely reset accounts, even down to the detail offering a welcome message to those users when they first logged on today. They, and especially visitors to the Gmail Help Forum, were not amused.

Nice. Of course, Google logs pretty much everything it can for data-mining purposes – which means ironically that its employees have access to the messages of the 150,000 affected users even the users themselves don’t.

A great many people have been lured into signing up for Gmail over the years because they’ve bought into Google’s marketing hype, or they’ve trusted someone who has. It’s true that Google has traditionally included features in Gmail that its competitors (Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail) haven’t, like unfettered POP and IMAP access. But Gmail’s competition is hardly the gold standard. The best email service usually costs money and comes with free, responsive technical support, along with generous storage limits and no advertising in the web interface.

Those who use Gmail not only consent to being spied on constantly by Google, they also run the risk that something like this will happen… and that when it does, they’ll be at the mercy of a faceless corporation that doesn’t provide dependable support.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance

New York Times investigates how JCPenney’s “search optimization” firm gamed Google

This article is a must-read:

For months, [JCPenney] was consistently at or near the top in [Google] searches for “skinny jeans,” “home decor,” “comforter sets,” “furniture” and dozens of other words and phrases, from the blandly generic (“tablecloths”) to the strangely specific (“grommet top curtains”).

This striking performance lasted for months, most crucially through the holiday season, when there is a huge spike in online shopping. J. C. Penney even beat out the sites of manufacturers in searches for the products of those manufacturers. Type in “Samsonite carry on luggage,” for instance, and Penney for months was first on the list, ahead of

How did Penney accomplish this? Its search optimization firm cheated by soliciting links to Penney’s site from untold numbers of other websites, including content farms. The cheating was discovered by the New York Times, which published a high-profile article about it. Google subsequently took action, but the damage to its reputation has already been done.

Google’s so-called anti-spam guru Matt Cutts claims the company cares about the integrity of its search results. But actions speak louder than words. Increasingly, what’s relevant and useful is buried in Google searches, while spam and junk float to the top. Maybe that’s not by accident, either.

Last year, Advertising Age obtained a Google document that listed some of its largest advertisers, including AT&T, eBay and yes, J. C. Penney. The company, this document said, spent $2.46 million a month on paid Google search ads — the kind you see next to organic results.

Is it possible that Google was willing to countenance an extensive black-hat campaign because it helped one of its larger advertisers? It’s the sort of question that European Union officials are now studying in an investigation of possible antitrust abuses by Google.

Google does not exist to make the world a better place or improve human knowledge. It exists to spy on people and make money. That explains why quality assurance has been declining: it’s just not a priority for the Monster of Mountain View.

There’s no reason to use Google for search anymore, particularly with so many good alternatives now out there, including startups like Blekko.

Posted in Poor Quality Assurance

Washington Post staff writer: Google search sucks

The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald discovers what many of us have known for some time: Google search sucks and frequently fails to provide relevant answers or useful information:

Earlier this month, my friend Rebecca Skloot replaced her hulking big-box TV – I can vouch for its girth, having moved it once – with a flat-screen no thicker than an iPad. She turned it on and, horror of horrors, the picture was lousy.

Displeased, she turned to Google for help. What the search engine delivered was a mess, a collection of spammy sites riddled with ads. So she turned to Twitter, posting: “Old TV died, got newfangled LED TV. Shocked how bad/fake movies look! . . . Others have this prob?”

Solutions to Skloot’s technological melodrama rolled in. Fix this setting, turn this off, shazam! A few hours later, she posted: “Thx 4 fixing my TV today! It’s example of how Google=in trouble. Googled 4 fix, got spam sites. On Twitter answer=asap.”

Skloot’s story seems ever more common these days. Google is facing withering criticism from tech bloggers and search engine experts who say the world’s premier gateway to digital information is increasingly being gamed by spammers. Google, they say, is losing.

Google has been losing the battle against spammers for years in part because it doesn’t care about quality assurance in its site results. The company’s evangelists and spokesmen will say otherwise, but actions speak louder than words.

Daniel Brandt, who runs Google Watch, noted years ago (back in the early 2000s) that if you add to a search query, it improves the quality of results dramatically. That’s because most spam sites use the .com TLD (top level domain).

Many of the spam sites or content farms Google has failed to eliminate or deprioritize in search results display Google ads themselves, and spy on their own users using Google Analytics. Google has no incentive to weed out these sites, because that would hurt its own bottom line.

Data from Experian Hitwise, referenced in Rosenwald’s article, confirms that Google’s search engine is headed downhill. Google’s success rate declined thirteen percent last year, while Microsoft’s Bing rose by nine percent.

Lackluster quality assurance is just another reason why people should Leave Google Behind.