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Living With Google

Week of November 16, 2004

Feeling lucky? Well, are ya punk?

It's become a household name, and 'Google' is a verb in almost every language. A lot of good technology and good product placement.

Then Brin and Page hired on Eric Schmidt. He even looks like Gates. His task? Make money. And he's good at it.


Brin and Page are perhaps the best in the industry at searches. Which doesn't necessarily make them best at security. From the look of things, they're taking up the bottom rungs right now.

Google Desktop - and the counterparts from the Vole known as Memory Lens Browser, Sapphire, and others - open up a wide range of security and privacy issues no one really wants to get near anymore.

So does Gmail for that matter, and no, there is nothing stopping the likes of Yahoo from plundering mail archives, or stopping any ISP for that matter (and one ISP was recently exonerated in a US court for doing this) but the mere fact that Google say they're going to data mine your mail should set you thinking.

The Google Desktop - as Sapphire and as Apple's coming Spotlight - leave data trails all over your personal property. It doesn't matter much that Google and the rest deny malfeasance; think 'Anne Frank': the Dutch authorities promised they had no interest in exploiting census information on ethnic origins (and the Dutch seem to have been suckered in by such a lame statement) and they were indeed true to their word; but what did that matter? The Nazis marched in, took over the records, and - and we've all heard the story of Anne Frank.

The point is that security and privacy have dog do-do to do with what potentially dangerous outside parties promise or don't promise to do with sensitive information - they have to do with that information being there in the first place.

If we for one moment ponder what it means to 'secure' a hard drive in this age of 'advanced search technologies' then it becomes obvious most computer users will have to go back to school all over again. In a few words, these 'technologies' make a mess of things.

Some companies will need these technologies; all we have to say is: whatever happened to the secretary?

Back in the good old days, before we were ever born (our grandparents talk of this, don't they) there were things known as secretaries. These odd creatures, mostly female, were underpaid so-called employees whose main job was to keep things sorted at a place of work - and to take dictation now and then, as well as use a device found today only in remote places such as the sub-cellar of the Smithsonian and known as a typewriter.

What these babes did was make sure the sloppy bosses didn't get into trouble. If there was important correspondence that had to be kept around, they 'filed' it away in funny contraptions called filing cabinets, resembling a kind of 'physical' counterpart to the desktop folder. They created - or inherited - their own sorting systems, and they adhered to them without exception.

If a boss came along all harried and wanted a copy of a document from year X month Y and day Z addressed to customer ABC, they could produce it in no time.

The world went to war; women took over the men's jobs; men returned to their jobs and women got other jobs; An Wang came along, the personal computer came along; and suddenly hapless execs were trying to do the work their secretaries used to do.

Everyone knows what klutzes and fools the execs are, so what kind of organisation is going to result?

Corporations of today keep all their mail messages, even all their IM logs, and if you didn't catch on, this is all they often have in the way of documentation. What to do if someone needs something? Good question.

Along comes Google Desktop. The perfect plaster cast and crutch for the lamer. You never sorted your mail; you never tried to make order out of it; you couldn't if you'd wanted to, you're so hopeless and untalented. Your boss wants document ABC and you have no clue how to find it. If you'd still had an underpaid secretary, she'd have it on your desk before you asked for it. But you fired her, didn't you? You fired her because now you had Microsoft Windows on your desktop and you didn't need her anymore - or so you thought.

So you spend all weekend looking for document ABC so you don't find yourself out on the street on Monday. If you're lucky (and we're unlucky) you will find it.

Not a pleasant scenario. But now we have Google Desktop - and soon Memory Lens Browser and Sapphire and Spotlight. All dedicated to making order out of a chaos you should never have permitted in the first place.

But you're a nasty little bugger, aren't you? You exchange juicy porn pictures with your Boston bishop, and hey, but they're pictures of small boys, and that's illegal and you could get in a LOT of trouble...

So you buy Evidence Eliminator, get burned, buy Evidence Eraser, get burned again, buy the E3 Security Kit (actually it's called the XPT but you never notice), now you're OK, and then you go install some good pics from Pastor Pervert...

And who is that at the door? John Ashcroft? Is it really him? Quick! Get to work!

E3 comes up. You run the default script. Whoosh bim bang it's all removed and shredded. The knocking is becoming more insistent now. They're threatening to break down the door. They say they have a warrant. You don't want to go to jail, do you? I mean, you can't help your proclivities, can you? Can you?

Sweaty! You rub the perspiration from your hands. Your eyes threaten to pop out of their sockets. Your entire computer screen looks fuzzy. Busted! They're here! Hurry!

So out with the E3 Finalizer and/or E3 Nighttime. Get to work and shred all the file and disk slack on your Gateway To Hell Windows PC. Quick! It's almost finished and they've almost broken through the door!

You make it. By the time they're in the room the E3 modules are reporting complete and everything secure. You breathe a sigh of relief - the last sigh of relief you will breathe in a very, very long while...

Why? Because, doofus that you are, you installed Google Desktop last month! And these FBI dudes, you think they're stupid or what? Do they need the actual documents? They fire up your Google desktop and then try some preliminary searches.

barely legal
naked teens
boys heaven
chocolate alleyways
rectal romps

And what's that? They can't find the cute pictures you got from the pastor, but they find the Google references to them!

And would you believe it? Next month, as you stand shackled in a court room and Jack McCoy is screaming at the judge to put you away forever, the court rules that the mere Google traces of your foul activity are proof enough. Surprise surprise!

Where are the Google caches? Do you know? Hey - will Google claim it can remove them if you want?

Can you trust Google to do this? More than you could trust Microsoft to really remove your web surfing data trails?

Microsoft have been spying on six hundred million PC users for at least the past five years - what do you say about that? Do you now still trust Google?

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