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back to article Microsoft lobby will turn Google into Microsoft

Jeff Hammerbacher, one of Facebook's early employees, is dismayed. Instead of innovation, he worries that "the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads." Take heart, Jeff: it could be worse. They could instead be thinking about how to stifle competition through lawsuits and government …

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Gold badge

It's life, Jim, but not as you know it

FB and Google have another, more major problem;: their business model is entirely based on the wave of government privacy abuse post 9/11 using tactics practically 100% identical to those used in the McCarthy era (only the magic word was then "communist" instead of the modern scarecrow "terrorist").

Both FB and Google are increasingly (and deservedly) under threat for their blatant ignoring of privacy which users now finally start to recognise again as their rights (it takes a while after almost 2 decades of brain washing). Their reaction so far has been to either stick their fingers in their ears and sing "I can't hear you nah nah", use service closure threats or simply change their abuse. In not a single instance has there been an iota of adjustment to their approach to business. In a way, they have already become Microsoft, other than that the monopoly status was obtained with innovation (a fact you really cannot accuse Microsoft of) these originally agile companies have now atrophied at the top.

Shareholders won't see this, of course. Most of them only see large numbers, and as long as the large numbers are massaged in the right way they will be happy with their stock. Long term, however, I would suggest planning an exit would be a good idea.

The next innovator must be around the corner - because that is the space both Google and FB have now abandoned.

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Anonymous Coward

Tin Hat

Government spying on you and businesses selling your personal data are two very different beasts. Yes, they are both abuses of privacy, but to suggest that selling personal data is a result of, or even "based on" 9/11 is risible. Want to take a stab at when this sort of behaviour started? I'm going to put my money on pre-1900.

Valuing your shareholders over your customers, valuing your profits over anyone's feelings, valuing yourself way, way, way above the little people is what Big Business is all about.

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Gold badge

You confuse the two with each other

The one is a direct consequence of the other. Post 9/11 we had a wave of measures which were introduced as temp solutions to find the bad guys amongst us, only those temp measures became permanent infringements. Anti-terror legislation is always notoriously short on transparency and remedy. Together with the fear mongering this created a climate where privacy actually became a dirty word. All you needed was to screech "terrorist" and you had a full license to go digging. Probably the best known UK example was the abuse of anti-terror laws by a council to identify whose dog was fouling the pavement.

To put this in context - privacy is an inalienable right - it is a Human Right you are born with. To break that right is a privilege TEMPORARILY granted to the state by its citizens to help ensure the social contract - but it remains a privilege, and a restricted one at that. It is not a right of the state to pry into your affairs, although quite a few government offices would like you believe it to be that way.

FB and Google certainly did not /cause/ this situation, but have been exploiting the laissez-fair state of affairs that was the direct consequence of this - it took the Japanese and the Swiss to start asking questions before everyone else woke up out of their stupor and started asking questions with respect to Streetview, the WiFi affair and FBs "flexible" approach to protecting users.

Just in case you thought Google has stopped WiFi scanning, in Belgium people discovered it is still doing it (it's a bit of a storm at the moment). What's more, read point 47 of the Canadian findings here: http://www.priv.gc.ca/media/nr-c/2010/let_101019_e.cfm,

Yes, that's right. If you have an Android phone it appears you may be an outsourced data snoop for Google. In other words, you may not want an Android phone user in your house or office, because they will be handing personal data to a 3rd party (Google) without your permission. Come to think of it, this could means that Android users break Data Protection laws, computer laws or wiretapping laws by default. Unknowingly, but ignorance is no defense for the law. That's theory, of course, (IANAL, but as far as I can see not unfeasible).

Google really does no evil - because it lets you do it.

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Anonymous Coward

You seem to be the one con-fusing two separate trends.

"The one is a direct consequence of the other. Post 9/11 we had a wave of measures which were introduced as temp solutions to find the bad guys amongst us, only those temp measures became permanent infringements."

The one is most definitely not a consequence of the other. Shitty business practices with respect to personal data pre-date 9/11.

Of course, the ubiquity of smart phones and search engines in our lives post-dates 9/11, and that's why we're seeing this particular side of corporate shittery at the moment. In 50 years time they'll be stuffing advertising down your stent or biochip or wetware or whatever and pulling your innermost thoughts back out the other way. It still won't have anything to do with 9/11.

Please provide evidence and argument for the "propter" and don't just wave some "post" about like it must be true.

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Silver badge

If it was good enough for Microsoft...

If it was good enough for MIcrosoft, it is good enough for everyone else. And if Google and Facebook and variousother actors should not be subject to government oversight, then neither should MIcrosoft have been. But of course, there will be numerous people with agendas who will claim that Microsoft is a special case of some sort. Sadly for them, the law does not rely on double-standards to quite the same extent as they do.

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Silver badge

When Google (for example)...

...release a Google OS that comes with a Google Browser baked right in and uses undocumented Google-only APIs; then Google will be as bad as MS for lock-in and restriction of choice etc.

Google and FB have the *potential* to be as bad (maybe worse, considering the personal data they control) as MS; but so far they are not that bad. MS is still the anti-open, anti-standards, anti-freedom gorilla in the room.

Hell, IBM is more open than MS!

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Silver badge

Yes

I don't often agree with Matt, but this time I think he's spot on.

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Silver badge

I don't agree

"Is this what we want? Probably not. But it's exactly what we get when we, the tech world, decide to compete with lawyers and lobbyists instead of developers and salespeople."

That's only part of the issue. The main reason why Microsoft and now Google have come under fire from Governments and law-makers is because they have completely abused their position. Microsoft didn't get their arse handed to them by the EU because they use patent lawyers (software patents count for little outside of an East Texas courthouse) it was because they broke the law and utterly abused their position to keep others out of the market. Likewise Google has come in for attention because it deliberately sniffed wireless connections and geotagged them all over the planet.

Patent disputes have very little to do with it, shitting on your "customers" does.

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OSC

I'm not sure I've ever agreed with Matt Asay...

but this time I think he's spot on.

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Silver badge

Err...

"Likewise Google has come in for attention because it deliberately sniffed wireless connections and geotagged them all over the planet."

I know there was a big hoo-hah in the press and I know the politicians saw it as a popularity contest in "Who can be more outraged?"....but is it a criminal offence to record data that is being blasted into the air unencrypted?

I do not excuse Google from the potential abuses this data could be put to, but are they really the causal party? It's not as if Google had to de-crypt anything. My opinion?

The users were idiots for not securing their networks adequately. "Ah, but not all users are techies." Then not all user should be setting up routers and networks, should they?

Google were (at best) very naive to think that Europeans would not get upset by this. Europeans are much more sensitive to privacy that the USAians. In the USA it seems that asking for privacy is almost an admission of guilt.

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Big Brother

Not at all.

If you don't lock your door, that does not amount to permission to walk inside and take pictures of your daughter in the shower, and then show them to everyone else. In addition, you should not forget that Google is a US company. Every bit of data Google gets its hands on is accessible to the US government given the right warrant, even of people who do not even live in US jurisdiction.

You have no control over what data they collect (remember, there were user names and passwords in that traffic), and no control over what happens once it has been exported to that lovely US of A (you know, the guys that have just legalised industrial espionage at the border by declaring that taking people's laptops is entirely legal).

If you are happy with that I would suggest you declare how much you earn in your next post and send a link to the pictures of your children, and what your wife looks like when she's asleep. After all, you don't have anything to hide, do you?

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WTF?

@AC: please remove tin foil hat, keep calm and carry on

If you don't lock your door, that does not amount to permission to walk inside and take pictures of your daughter in the shower....

A little over dramatic here shurely - Google simply logged on to open wireless connections. I have an open one for passing walkers (and Google), and a closed one for me. You rarely really know if an open connection is open deliberately or not, and in having an open connection you are in effect offering it for use. There have been a few cases which said otherwise but they were where bad technical and legal advice was given.

Your second paragraph confuses government and private actions - a little tin foil hat here and there

My earnings are about £45k; as for the rest, photos of most peoples children are posted on Facebook and you *really* wouldn't want to see my wife when she's asleep ;-)

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Re: Not at all.

"If you don't lock your door, that does not amount to permission to walk inside and take pictures of your daughter in the shower, and then show them to everyone else."

However, if your daughter is showering in the front yard where the visible band of the radio spectrum isn't prevented from hitting the street, you've lost that expectation of privacy. Why should unsecured wireless spectrum be any different?

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Silver badge
FAIL

I might have the details wrong, but...

AFAIK, Google did not actually intrude into any networks and snoop around trying to extract pictures of your daughter, bank records or the like.

AFAIK, all they did was record SSIDs broadcast by the wireless routers and geotag them. The SSIDs are broadcast according to a well known protocol for publishing/advertising SSIDs to invite attachment.

A more fitting analogy would be that your daughter was standing on the front lawn - in full view of all - yelling out "Hi I'm Mandy and I want some I/O" as Google drove past...

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Gold badge
Black Helicopters

@Charles Manning

Yes, you do have the details wrong.

"AFAIK, all they did was record SSIDs broadcast by the wireless routers and geotag them."

That was indeed what they (allegedly) set out to do. As it turned out, they were having a good old slurp of any traffic around at the same time and keeping a record of it. Google reckon this was down to a coding error (allegedly).

The road to hell would appear to be paved with good intentions. Who knew?

I suppose if we're going to persist with the ongoing analogy, this is where they note each house where the shower is running, try the door handle and if it's unlocked, nip upstairs and photograph whoever's in the shower. One of those pictures may be of your daughter......

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Software Patents

A very, very bad idea - the sooner the US reforms its patent laws, the better for everyone. I hope the OIN achieves its goal of a multilateral patent ceasefire, otherwise software patents really will stifle innovation & competition, as they have begun to do.

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Silver badge

All patents

Why just take on software patents? All patents suffer the same flaws as software patents. All stifle innovation as much as each other.

I've heard the argument that all software is equivalent to a mathematical formula and you can't patent those. Bollocks. Uncle Turing told us all computers and programs are equivalent to machines and you can patent those.

Either all patents are a bad idea or all ideas should be patentable. Software does not deserve any special treatment.

Patents have been a big headache for software/computer developers for a long time - the whole history of computing in fact - and it is probably close to impossible to develop any reasonable body of software that does not violate at least one patent. Even if patents can be invalidated with prior art they are valid until overturned. That means for some software that the legal battles will take more man hours than the development.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes

But then again, you don't know how many minds regulation works on when people don't go ahead and do they would have done otherwise. We all know prison doesn't work well on the people who go to prison, but it's hard to measure the effect the threat of it has on those who don't.

Maybe the cost of cases with a poor legal basis to start with could be made more punitive?

Getting rid of software patents would remove one avenue for excess litigation. But, of course, if that was possible, we wouldn't be living in a world where lobbying is so effective!

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>Is this what we want?

No.

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Grenade

First...

We kill all the fucking lobbyists.

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Paris Hilton

Then...

...we finish the ones that aren't fornicating. A smaller subset, I admit.

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Bronze badge

What we should have...

...is an office where all of these legal cases are taken as single briefs with the arguments, and then a jury of 101 people are brought in to 'jury' the case by studying it through, taking tests on the briefs to prove that they read and understand them, and then come out with a decision.

No lawyers, no weeks/months/years of cases. A top time of three days to finish these cases without any legalese.

The decision would then be by majority vote.

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Headmaster

Curious

The author has an economically neo-conservative agenda with regard to government regulation - fair enough, he is entitled to his view. However, there is a certain lack of logic in his complaints about such intervention. Should the authorities have adopted a hands-off approach towards MS in the 1990s or not? If, in the author's opinion the authorities should simply piss off and leave the industry alone he should then at least explain how one *should* deal with the way that MS behaved in the nineties or the way that Intel treated AMD or the way that etc etc....... Oh and please do not make me laugh and say let the courts handle it - I can just see the vulpine smile crawling over the face of every corporate lawyer in existence when some idiot says that.

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Silver badge

I read it a little differently,

not so much admonishing the government intervention, but admonishing the industry for letting things get so out of hand it was necessary.

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Happy

@Oninoshiko

That may well be what he intended but I am not sure that makes it any more logical. His alternative then would be self-regulation? In that event I have to say that I fear that he suffers from the same persistent delusion that the market can be self-governing that so many of his political compadres suffer from. Just to express it rhetorically, what happens when this or that company within a market begins to "win", what do we see time and again? They start to use/abuse their market position and/or utilise predatory legal tactics in order to protect what they *at the outset* won by competing more effectively than other companies. It does not even require that a company achieves the kind of dominance of a market that Bell in its day or MS or Intel achieved as single companies. We saw that in the early noughties when five or so TV producers operated a pricing cartel in the European market. They ended up paying large fines but my point is that it did not require there to be only one or two major players for that kind of distortion of the market to work - it demonstrates that it is not enough just to ensure that no one player gets too big. The irony is that it appears to take very tough and, when necessary, financially ruthless regulation/regulatory action to protect the free-market from the activities of its participants. "Big Corp" does not want "free and fair" competition and most certainly has no interest in subjecting itself to any *genuinely* effective self-regulation (I have to admit that I regard the concept "effective self regulation" as an oxymoron!). I fear that the author is avoiding addressing a really fundamental issue.

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Silver badge
Happy

@Arctic Fox

Maybe you are correct, and the movement from an innovative industry to one dominated by anti-competitive behavior is inevitable, but I don't think that calling out the industry for going there is necessarily wrong. Maybe someday we can learn from our mistakes, or (better yet) just try doing the right thing.

Maybe it's a little naive, but maybe too I don't want to be always have to be the cynic I act.

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Gold badge

Regarding Apple,

They've been a big user and abuser of lawsuits since the 1980s. They have good excellent PR firms that have, let's say de-emphasized this. But it's true.

Anyway, sad but true. And to be honest, I think this is one big reason companies in China and such are rapidly overtaking the US'ian and European companies --

a company here in the States... 1) Come up with a good idea (or bad idea, I guess). 2) Lawyers. 3) Patent check. 4) Buy licenses (if you've got money left, otherwise abandon your idea). 5) Find someone to manufacture or reproduce, who may also decide there's "IP" problems. 6) Profit? Well, maybe, but it must be banked against both legitimate patent owners whose patents you missed, and ESPECIALLY patent trolls who produce nothing of value but will try to find SOMETHING in your product to sue you over.

China? 1) Come up with idea. 2) Find someone to manufacture or reproduce idea. 3) Profit. Of course, someone will probably clone your product, but if yours is the best it'll still do OK.

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Silver badge

@Henry

Not just China, but that's how things used to be. I thought Patents were to protect inventors (people or companies) who had made investments to perfect a product and (quite justifiably) required some protection to recoup loses. I don't think patents were ever meant to be used in the way they are today.

Survival of the fittest.

Open competition.

Free trade.

All add up (pretty much) to Capitalism. As the USA (and to a large extent the EU) no longer wish to follow those three principles, what kind of market are they running? IMHO the EU is protectionist and the USA nearly Communist.

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Unhappy

How about we make lobbying a crime

Government decisions should be informed by the views of companies but not on a whoever hires the most lawyers/PRs basis. I'd rather they fired all the lobbyists and instead each major firm had a single government representative available for consultation as and when we need their opinion on something.

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JPO
Alert

You do no seem to understand the real issue?

The very reason why EU is invetigating Google is the fact that it has 90-95% of search advertising market in EU and it is using this (near monopoly) position to execute predatory practices, like prizing and other business practices which are not allowed to a corporation having a dominating position or near monopoly.

So - near monopoly market dominance and business pactices of Google are in the core of EU investigation and I would not expect anything less fines what Intel and Microsoft got and significant limitations to Google's business prectices and demand to open all API's to Googles services (similar to Microsoft).

In US Google has domitant position in the market (Approx 65% of market), which could and likely will lead to limitations to it's business practices.

One of the marjor topics which could be the bundling issue. A corporation who has a dominant position is not allowed to bundle it's dominant product to other products. Like with IE Google may have to strip it's search and map services from Chrome and Android and make those optional - similar to EU Browser ballot screen.

These are the real topics of these investigations and law is the same for all.

Facebook should remember that having a monopoly position is legal. You just need to remember the phrase Google forgot, "Don't be Evil" and you can focus on innovation as much you want.

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Silver badge
Dead Vulture

Poorly written ramblings...

This article is a complete fail.

Sorry Matt, but from a journalistic effort, you ramble from your first comment and never clearly make any conclusive point or argument.

Starting in your first paragraph: "Jeff Hammerbacher, one of Facebook's early employees, is dismayed. Instead of innovation, he worries that "the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads." "

First, what does this have anything to do with the main point of your article (Assuming that the title refers to the point you're trying to make...)

Hammerbacher departed Facebook and is over at Cloudera. (Actually he's been there for quite some time.)

Second, Hammerbacher's 'generation' was tossed tons of money to develop something and then worry about how to monetize what they wrote. My generation looked at the long term viability of the effort and how to capitalize it before they got started.

But this has nothing to do with Google getting scrutinized by the US and other Western governments?

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Bronze badge
Boffin

@Mark 65

"Likewise Google has come in for attention because it deliberately sniffed wireless connections and geotagged them all over the planet."

It merely 'deliberately' geotagged them, for use in a nifty scheme where your mobile phone can more accurately pinpoint its position by correlating the WiFi networks it sees. Thus working indoors and not needing the GPS chipset all the time. And it gives a much more accurate location than cell towers.

Unless proven otherwise (and as explicitly stated by Google), the actual capturing of the open networks was a programming error by the guy who wrote that part. Most probably because they relied on a third-party library that was misconfigured and logged too much.

If you can't live with that, make sure you do NOT visit http://wigle.net/ or http://www.wefi.com/maps/ or http://www.wardrivemap.nl/ or... You get the picture ;)

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Silver badge

Companies with a monopoly or near-monopoly...

Are simply going to draw more scrutiny, due to their size, success and a normal human reaction to having few/no options to a dominant organization. I don't really buy that the extra scrutiny has much to do with 9/11.

And unfortunately, after reaching your first really big idea, finding the second one gets very hard. Apple languished 15 years before coming up with the iPod and then iPhone. Microsoft got two big ideas with operating systems and then MS Office, but for most of the last 20 years they have been treading water. Google has its combo of search and advertising, and now possibly the Android operating system as a revenue driver.

And in the course of creating these big ideas, companies come up with a lot of IP. I have no problem with them legitimately protecting their intellectual blood and sweat, but if they use it as a hammer to distract or intimidate possible competitors, then it has a detrimental effect on the marketplace.

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