Monday, September 4, 2006

First, do no evil?

Google sure wants us to believe they are moral and upstanding. One of their first questions in any decision is supposedly an evilness rating, with their corporate mantra to "do no evil". But they're a corporation, and as a corporation they're only in it for the money. Or so it seems.

Google developing eavesdropping software: The idea is that as computers more frequently have built in microphones (and cameras) that Google can use the audio from the microphone to select context-relavent advertising based on the sounds in the background. Is the person watching television while playing on the Internet? Google can listen to the television program, and through the magic of software determine what you're watching, the relavent keywords for that show, and then pop up relavent advertising on your computer screen.

Um.. so Google is going to listen, through the microphone on your computer, to the sounds wherever you are .. and they're going to try to understand what's going on around you based on those sounds? And it's all for the purpose of showing you advertsing?

So, just how long before someone like George W. Bush gets a brilliant idea that the NSA should be wiretapping personal computers through the built-in microphone?

And, what about those video cameras that are more and more often built into computers?

Just how safe from invasions of privacy are we as the devices are more complex? How do you know whether the microphone or camera built into your computer is 'on'? Maybe the microphone is on and recording and there's no visual indication? And if it's on and recording without visual indication, then where is the recording going?

For Windows users, the rampant spyware issue ought to give pause for thought ... spyware gets surreptitiously installed on your computer, in some cases simply by having your computer on the internet. Spyware can do anything, and it seems "anything" could include activating the microphone (and/or camera) built into the computer, and sending the recordings over the Internet.

Getting back to Google ... they sure make nice about this, saying their software only digests the audio and doesn't send the actual recordings back to the mothership. Instead the mothership just receives tags giving them knowledge of the sort of content, not the actual sounds. That sure makes me feel better, right?

How can we independantly determine that's really what Google's software is doing? And, there's potentially a zillion other bits of traffic that your computer does without your knowledge.