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The Big Brothers

Week of February 21, 2005

There's two of them.

There's a new threat looming on the horizon, just when we've almost got Sir William Gates completely in the trash can: Brin & Page. There are a few differences. Brin & Page are real programmers, but neither knew how to make money off their project and called in someone to take care of that, and the someone they chose has done well.

Too well.

Neither are Google the monopoly Microsoft became. Unbelievably enough they barely have 50% of the search market. But after years of abuse at the hands of Microsoft, it's no exuberant feeling people get when seeing what these 'Big Brothers' come up with.

Gmail. If ever there was an ill-conceived project, this is it. Neither Radsoft nor Rixstep will correspond with it. Brin & Page announce explicitly that they will be doing data mining; any of the other biggies can have been doing it all along - but Brin & Page come out and invite animosity by telling everyone they'll be doing it.

Google Desktop. Has any product at any time incurred so much criticism so quickly? This piece de resistance from Brin & Page was immediately qualified by Google's own staff as 'inappropriate' for use in most environments. The security ramifications - security risks - are too palatable to be cut with a blowtorch.

Google Toolbar. In an age when IE has been condemned by the US federal government, what do Brin & Page do? Develop plugins exclusively for it. Anyone could adapt the technology for the up and comers like Firefox with a not so insignificant market - 25 million is not beans exactly - but not Brin & Page. Which only makes them look, if possible, even stupider than before.

Here an ad, there an ad, everywhere an ad ad. Google's a ruptured cheap form of its former self. Brin & Page once wooed the world with panache and with elegance in the simplicity of their interface. How many dare click on 'I'm feeling lucky'? But have it there and you win approval.

Look where they are now: turn on their new link feature (if you dare and if you're dumb enough to use both Windows and IE) and what do Google do?

Rake in more big bucks is what. It's inventive technology but it's not good stuff. Google automatically parse your HTML output and find ways to insert hyperlinks into your text - diverting you to sites paying Google for the service. Great, isn't it?

And to those who don't realise Google are caching the entire Internet day after day and month after month and year after year: who would have realised a few years back that they could in effect run a special version of Linux connecting upwards of what we now estimate is 100,000 extremely cheap-ass boxes in tandem?

What's to stop them from archiving all this? The Wayback Machine is a pitiful effort in comparison - nice but not at all of the same magnitude of what Brin & Page are up to. Would they ever let this data go to waste? Would they ever just throw it out? Hello! You're kidding, right?

The Brin & Page issue is not one of security as much as it is of privacy, even if we already have seen several examples of security breaches and a very deaf support team at the company who for years have just ignored incoming alerts.

Big Brother is here - and he's got a brother as well. There's two of them. And don't forget: never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.

Except in the case of Brin & Page, never rule out malice either.

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