Google: Do No Evil?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Google expert Scott Cleland argues that the world's most powerful company has a hidden political agenda, and explains why he things its mission to organize the world's information is destructive and wrong. In Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc., he explains that Google has the largely unchecked power to influence and control virtually everything the Internet touches.


Scott Cleland

Comments [45]

David A. from Harlem, NYC

“All marketers are Liars” author Seth Godin spoke 5 years ago at Google. This video is part of the Authors@Google series:

"To build in a permission asset... to build in the ability to have people want you to be a closer partner, to be there so that you can make them the next fashion and they'll listen in one day and then you can get to the next thing..."

The platform has been created, and the community, and we are largely unaware of the cost of that conversation. Most people are willing to pay that cost because it seems trivial.

May. 18 2011 12:06 AM

Why would anyone assume that something so huge, so technologically sophisticated and complex, so inherently capable of collecting data from anyone who connects to it, and in such a state of rapid, unchecked growth, would be responsible or even be capable of imposing responsible, cautious behavior on its vast workforce?

May. 15 2011 10:08 PM

I'm sorry, this guest is full of BS. Yeah, stuff can be tracked. Except that Google is very open about what it tracks and what ads are shown. They don't "keep" my emails or "horde" any of my private data, and there is no plan to release my private data publicly. There was the Google Buzz mess where Gmail contacts were released, but seriously they've learned.

Tracking cookies can be disabled from Google's end or within the browser. They do not tie ad tracker data and analytics data to names and personal information.

Talking about how they were hacked is unfair. Plenty of bigger names have been hacked. When Epsilon got attacked, dozens of major companies' email lists were exposed.

Google does not regularly steal IP. The selling of keywords is automated. Google does not go out and actively sell the trademarks to competitors. Google Books is largely legal, and their settlement over the bits of copyrighted material that were challenged was only opposed on the grounds of equal access to other companies. News sites claim that the snippets on Google News, etc, but they're grasping at the past to maintain a failed business model.

Google doesn't have any desire to link a faceprint, voiceprint or fingerprint to a person. Saying Picasa is about tracking faces is insane.

Google Street View blurs faces and the wifi data was never publicly available. THEY were the ones to announce they realized they had the data and would delete it.

I'm sorry, but this stuff is crazy. You may have facts in your book, however the way you're presenting them is misleading, inaccurate and unfair to the company, users, employees, advertisers and listeners/readers.

May. 13 2011 12:35 AM

The issue isn't what Google is doing with the information RIGHT NOW. It's the potential for abuse in the future. Today, Google combs through your e-mails and contacts to extract data for advertising purposes, and to customize your Google experience. I do not believe they are profiling the average citizen, although I wouldn't doubt they've got "high interest" people they can easily monitor.

The very fact that you type information into a Google editor browser plug-in makes it Google domain property. They store it and it's theirs for all time. But what if you're someone who takes an interest in a controversial subject, writing and reading about it? Who is to say that Google will protect that information from others who wish to know about you? THAT is the key problem.

If Google had an expiration policy on their individual tracking data, or allow someone to opt-out on it, that would be far more comforting. But they don't. And this is the problem. We as individuals have NO SAY whatsoever on our information that Google holds. Even if they had a "request to destroy" policy, there's no way we can confirm that there isn't a copy somewhere, squirreled away in an archive. Once data has been released on the Internet, it is there for virtually all time.

May. 12 2011 03:06 PM
Rachel X from Queens

I think Cleland is very misleading. He keeps saying that Google will learn about "You", and learn what "You're doing". And that even if you're on anonymous public computers in internet cafes, Google will discover "You" eventually.

I'd like to know what Mr. Cleland's definition of "You" is exactly. If it's "Me" (how I feel, where I live, etc.), that's one thing. But if it's some abstract digital, ephemeral wisp of me on the internet. that's something completely different.

I think the guest conflates the two in an effort to promote paranoia - which is intellectually dishonest and hyperbolic.

May. 12 2011 02:41 PM
Dan from NY

@Victoria, does that really comfort you. I don't think anybody assumed that a person was actually reading your e-mails. It's the fact that they are searching your mails, your documents, your phone calls on google voice, etc. every service you add on and log into your google account is one more way that they can link even more data together. it might not say "Victoria X" but at some point, all those data points combined pretty much identifies you.

May. 12 2011 02:25 PM
David Danziger from Park Slope

Mr. Cleland kept using the word "fact," except he provided, at best, disingenuous hyperbolic unsubstantiated assertions. The advertising business does perform well-understood extensive user tracking, but they also allow you to opt out from both advertising tracking and Google Analytics tracking. How do I know? There is public info on google/doubleclick's sites as well as a plethora of 3rd party sites—and yet his specifics are factually sloppy, to be charitable. ("DNA tracking" -- is he alluding to 23andme? Really? Really? It's also not even a Google property; they invested in, but do not own it.) Also, if one really, really doesn't trust the opt out mechanisms, there are 3rd party browser plugins like google sharing to obfuscate personal info. I am a big proponent of privacy and transparent public disclosure of information usage policies, but also, equally so, of honest journalism. Presenting paranoid misinformation only does a disservice toward the pursuit of truth.

May. 12 2011 02:07 PM
DTorres from Nathan Strauss Projects

Mr. Cleland did not answer the question
posed by Lenny Lopate, as to whether
he was being financed by At%t or

I love Google.

May. 12 2011 01:38 PM
Kirsten from NYC

One thing that caught my attention from the interview that I can't seem to find referenced anywhere (if I wanted to adjust my tin hat, I could chalk this up to using Google for search!) was Google having essentially 3 copies of the internet stored on their servers. Any truth to this/more info available on it?

May. 12 2011 01:36 PM
Edward from NJ

@Marie, the information tracked by Google Analytics is anonymous demographic data. If WNYC is tracking you as an individual, they are doing it with their own cookies. Unless you have a personal stalker who has server access at WNYC, the *anonymous* data is actually much more interesting to the people looking at it. They can see how many people are looking at their site, which pages get the most traffic, what kind of browsers are being used, etc. They could track this internally as well, but Google Analytics offers lots of nifty charts and graphs. It also ties in with Google's Adsense service so that they can keep track of click-throughs from Google ads.

May. 12 2011 01:21 PM

@Edward from NJ. Interesting! Thanks. Question for WNYC: Regarding the information that you are receiving from Google Analytics, what are you doing with it and do you share it with any other companies, including Google?

May. 12 2011 01:09 PM
scott from brooklyn

yeah! i saw that too! here it is

May. 12 2011 01:06 PM
Edward from NJ

@Marie, Google Analytics isn't evil Google tracking you. It's evil WNYC tracking you with some help from Google. ;-)

May. 12 2011 01:05 PM
Peg from Jackson Heights, NY

What if, down the road a bit, Google, Inc. was hit with an anti-trust suit and had to disband its data collection on users. Is it possible? Obviously, they would have to be willing to do it, and trustworthy, but that assumed, is it possible?

May. 12 2011 01:03 PM
Edward from NJ

It's worth noting that Scott Cleland is a prominent net-neutrality opponent. Here are some of his sponsors in that effort:

While he's concerned about Google being able to track us. He doesn't seem to have a problem with AT&T expanding their ability to do the same:

May. 12 2011 01:01 PM

One possible defense against tracking:

The NYT or NPR reported on this application a few months ago. It allows you to see and block sites tracking you. Right now on this WNYC page, I have blocked 5 sites trying to track my usage. From what I can see, two of those are from Google: Google Adsense and Google Analytics (which I don't understand since I use Ecosia instead of Google as a search engine).

May. 12 2011 12:59 PM

@Paul -- if you're at an Internet cafe and using a browser without being logged into anything, Google is not able to track you. You're anonymous. But if you log into your GMail account, you're instantly identified. Not only is the IP address logged, the Internet Cafe is a customer of an ISP which has identification as well. Don't be surprised if you start seeing ads for Starbucks coffee in your browser. ;-)

May. 12 2011 12:53 PM

Leonard, thank you for this VERY enlightening radio spot and to Scott Cleveland for his extensive research.

I'm hoping his book provides techniques to help guard your privacy when using the Internet. Google must be stopped from this exploitative position they're in, taking advantage optimally while most of the public and government remains ignorant.

1) Try not to stay logged into your GMail account when on-line. If you must, then open another browser (different brand) and do all of your searching there, while not logged in. Try using "Bing" too and see if it meets your needs.
2) On your Android phone, try to keep GPS and Internet turned on only when you really need it. This will also help conserve your battery power level.

I really don't understand how Google makes so much money in ads. Who really looks at them or clicks through? I've tuned them out so much, I'd forgotten that they exist!

May. 12 2011 12:50 PM
D Franklin from NYC

@Gary from Hoboken, NJ
Question about Google tracking

No you do not have to be logged in.
I have heard reports of them tracking in ways you can't even imagine. Do some research, it will freak you out and make you want to drop your computer in the Hudson.

May. 12 2011 12:47 PM

"Google can track you if you use computers at an internet cafe because you have a digital footprint"

I'd love how they could possibly tell a) that you're at an internet cafe and not a unique user on the same ISP and

b) how they could possibly distinguish one person's traffic at the cafe from another user.

Especially since the router in the internet cafe handles the traffic for all the computers, and google sees the same external IP address for each discrete computer inside the local network.

Sounds to me like your guest is just using FUD to sell his book.

May. 12 2011 12:44 PM
Tisha from NJ

Thanks, Amy, for a good tip!

May. 12 2011 12:43 PM
Zeco from Germany

is your "Google Expert" perchance part of the same effort that was just uncovered as a fud campaign paid by facebook?

Link, if allowed, otherwise use a search engine of your choice "BUSTED: It Was FACEBOOK That Hired A Former CNBC Reporter To Spread Lies About Google":

May. 12 2011 12:43 PM

@Estelle -- Apple is not "evil." The iPhone tracks a lot of information, but keeps it on the phone. It does NOT send it to Apple. On the other hand, Android sends a lot of information to Google servers.

With Android, you can be tracked in several ways, such as your Internet connection, GPS services, and cellular tower. If you turn on GPS and Internet only when you need it, Google still receives tracking of your phone in proximity to cellular towers, but it's not very useful to pinpoint your specific location.

May. 12 2011 12:42 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On fingerprints, how would they get those unless users actually provide them? Can they match users to prints from criminal records, or kids' prints in missing-children registries? I'm pretty sure that no technology exists to let them read our fingerprints through our keyboards...yet.

Lately I've been using's search toolbar. It donates 2,500 grains of rice the the UN's World Food Program for every 5 searches (but only twice a day).

May. 12 2011 12:41 PM
Matt from NYC

Won't there be a time when we don't need a search engine anymore?

May. 12 2011 12:40 PM
Tisha from NJ

Scott is right. Is Google contributing to WNYC these days or is Leonard just doing due diligence?

May. 12 2011 12:40 PM
Louis Steinberg

DId anyone notice how the guest ducked the question of Microsoft support?

May. 12 2011 12:39 PM

So how do we protect ourselves from the evil (or unethical) empire?

May. 12 2011 12:39 PM
D Frankin from NYC

No - there is no Google rival on the horizon - Google has infected the internet

May. 12 2011 12:38 PM
Mike from Midtown

I was agreeing with your guest for a while there but he's lost me. There is no evidence that 'most people' are against the sort of transparency that Wikileaks promotes. And our relationship to privacy, in regards to tools like Google Earth and streetview, is evolving and it's not at all fair to say that these services do more harm than good.

May. 12 2011 12:37 PM

I'm glad for this. Google's tech capabilities in the wrong hands would equal a disaster.

May. 12 2011 12:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On the other hand, I do medical editing & often search for things I have no interest in or use for--yes, including Rogaine, as well as Viagra & Botox (for overactive bladder, not for cosmetic purposes). It's annoying to get ads for these things.

May. 12 2011 12:34 PM
Gary from Hoboken, NJ

Question about Google tracking:

Does Google track you ONLY if you're logged in? Or do they track by computer name, IP address, or some other identification in addition to being logged in?

I usually don't stay logged into GMail when I'm searching, so I wonder if this helps protect my privacy.

May. 12 2011 12:34 PM

Also: To what extent does Apple track one's identity, and keep it secure? A user with an iPhone has an iTunes account that connects all their contacts, music, movies, apps, name, address, payment information, etc. How "evil" is Apple?

May. 12 2011 12:33 PM
Edward from NJ

While Google is the largest, every free internet site does exactly the same thing. If Google fell, Bing or some other search engine would rise up and use the same tactics. If *everyone* were willing to pay for a truly private search engine, then you might have something that was useful and economically viable.

May. 12 2011 12:32 PM
Victoria from Brooklyn

I agree that Google is a monopoly and needs to be checked, but also I feel like I must follow up on something you said on the show. You said they were "reading" your email to target interests, but this is not correct. No human eyes index emails for ad content. The technology they use is similar to spell check and spam filters--it's done by algorithmically.

May. 12 2011 12:32 PM
Chris from Manhattan

Does Internet Explorer's "private" search mode provide protection from Google's eyes?

May. 12 2011 12:32 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Does Google really know "*everywhere* you've been on the Web," or just everywhere you've gone by following links from their searches?

And Scott Cleland makes some good points, but I just searched on "search," & the ads are off to the right of the screen & labeled as ads. (The 1st result from this search? Bing. The 2nd was Yahoo!.)

May. 12 2011 12:29 PM

how is it that google is facing anti-trust legislation and it's not being enacted on any of the major media conglomerates??

May. 12 2011 12:27 PM

Several questions, take your pick! Do applications like Ghostery (blocking beacons among other things) and Albine protect users from Google's tracking of their internet usage? Is Ecosia safer than Google? Why wouldn't Bing follow Google's model if Google has had so much success?

May. 12 2011 12:25 PM
emma from queens

i use for searches. it has a different algorithm so you get different results, but for the simple stuff, it's fine.

post on gawker/gizomodo @ this stuff yesterday. how to get off is there, but read the comments (hit all button) to see problems posted there.

May. 12 2011 12:24 PM

2 Questions:
- Does Google know your computer's ID when you do a search? Can they connect that with an email address?
- Can Google or any other internet spammer actually see an individual's desktop? I recently added something to my desktop "Stickies" to-do list: "buy vacuum replacement part." In the last few days I have gotten repeated email ads for vacuum cleaner parts. Just a coincidence?

May. 12 2011 12:24 PM
D Frankin from NYC

Thank you for bringing up Gmail! Never respond to a Gmail address.

May. 12 2011 12:19 PM
D Franklin from NYC

Thank you Scott! I have been telling people this for years and they thought I was nuts.

Might want to look into Google Ad words too.

May. 12 2011 12:17 PM
Nick from NYC

For clarification, can you ask your guest to be specific on

1) how technically Google does this tracking (i.e. cookies?) and

2) whether this info is, in fact, linked to you as an identifiable individual - IP address? how?

May. 12 2011 12:13 PM

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