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back to article How Google paved the way for NSA's intercepts - just as The Register predicted 9 YEARS AGO

Much hilarity has greeted Eric Schmidt’s deeply sincere “outrage” at his “discovery” that the NSA was spying on Google. For example, Vanity Fair pointed Mr Schmidt to some helpful Google searches. But the NSA is merely treading in some well-worn footsteps – some of which were made by Google itself. Let us refresh your memory of …

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Big Brother

The past really is prolouge!

I have never been very fond of Google's collection and retention of this-and-that from it's users.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The past really is prolouge!

I have never been very fond of Google's collection and retention of this-and-that from it's users.

Yes, but try avoid it. They collect direct data, meta data and atmospherics, about the only company in the world that can do this, apparently without any real legal problems (unless the EU does not give in to the relentless lobbying and US blackmail behind the scenes). When it comes to tax, they live abroad, as soon as legal problems arise, they're all of a sudden a US company.

“It's just bad public policy ... and perhaps illegal,” fretted Schmidt to the WSJ. “There clearly are cases where evil people exist, but you don't have to violate the privacy of every single citizen of America to find them.”

Bad people are just the pretext. The whole "bad people" thing is way overblown to start with, and what is happening is so far in excess of what is required that you can assume with a high degree of certainty that that wasn't the goal at all. It's a pork fest on the back of the tax payer, the tax payer who is already bleeding from another pork fest gone wrong at Wall Street. The genius lies in the fact that they managed to export the costs beyond the borders.

</soapbox>

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Thank you for writing this

When people claim to me that Google are somehow kinder, nicer, less oppressive than Apple I shall think of this and smile.

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Re: Thank you for writing this

I like a company that offers good service and charges a good price for doing so. It is a straightforward transaction, you know where you stand, it is business as old as civilisation and there is a simply honesty about what is being transacted. With Google on the other hand, you are the product, you are the food on the table that Google are putting on sale in the Google restaurant.

I prefer the relationship where I pay upfront for what I use and consume. I think it results in a healthier relationship where the supplier works hard to ensure they justify their supplies to me, their customer.

People often talk about Apple without actually checking for themselves. Compare Apple's privacy policy with Google's. Really read it and think about what each company is committing to. The difference is night and day. Google use obscure language that is far from upfront and which hides what they really are reserving the right to do from the unwary. The differences provide an example of the different forces at play in the two business models.

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Re: Thank you for writing this

https://www.apple.com/privacy/

How we use your personal information

The personal information we collect allows us to keep you posted on Apple’s latest product announcements, software updates, and upcoming events. It also helps us to improve our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on our mailing list, you can opt out anytime by updating your preferences.

We also use personal information to help us develop, deliver, and improve our products, services, content, and advertising.

Sorry to burst your bubble, bub, but they're all in on it.

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Alert

Comparing Apple / Google with NSA is misleading

Apple and Google are companies and offer a product for a price. The contractual agreement between the company and you is your only interaction and anything beyond the mutually agreed service/use is a breach of contract that can be contested in court.

NSA is a government agency. There is no contract and there is not even any public information of what they do. There is no legal recourse against their actions, there is no accountability among their employees. You have no legal recourse against them if they misuse your data, kill your career with it, or destroy your computer when installing their secret surveillance software. There is a big big difference between dealing with a company and dealing with your government. One can destroy the life of millions (just remember your history classes), the other is just a business vehicle.

The argument that Google prepared (intellectually) the ground for the NSA may be true, but thats about the limit of the comparison.

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Unhappy

"and advertising."

Literally the last words in the statement, which you would probably not even read.

Understand something about all corporations.

They have no built-in ethics or morals beyond if-its-ilegal-dont-get-caught.

These apparent characteristics are created by the human staff that run them over time. So over time a corporation could change from okay-to-deal-with to rob-the-corpses-of-the-dead.

IOW A fish rots from it's head.

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Re: Thank you for writing this

The Apple privacy policy is particularly iniquitous. What many people don't realize is that APPLE defines many things as Non-Personal information which are clearly and legally (in the EU and the majority of countries) clearly the opposite ... ie, definitely personal information.

Take the Apple definition:

"We also collect non-personal information − data in a form that does not permit direct association with any specific individual. We may collect, use, transfer, and disclose non-personal information for any purpose. "

Notice that APPLE defines non-personal information as any information that does not permit DIRECT association with any specific individual. This provides the convenient and massive loophole that anything that allows INDIRECT association with an individual is fair game according to Apple, and can and IS used for any purpose that APPLE sees fit.

Compare this definition with the EU definition,

Article 2a: 'personal data' shall mean any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person ('data subject'); an identifiable person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to his physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity;

The inclusion of "identifable" is a key point, widely used internationally since the OECD definition in the '50s

So against this background I think people need to understand that the Apple definition is nothing more than a self-serving legal word-play who'se SOLE intention is to protect Apple against US Class-Action lawsuits. It has NOTHING to do with actually protecting the privacy of Apple customers.

Even in the US, which is not exactly famous for protection of Privacy and civil liberties, despite the hypocritical claims we often hear from the US to the contrary, the concept of "indirect" personal information is found in a number of legal definitions:

For example: (Wikipedia)

The U.S. government used the term "personally identifiable" in 2007 in a memorandum from the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget (OMB),[11] and that usage now appears in US standards such as the NIST Guide to Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information (SP 800-122).[5] The OMB memorandum defines PII as follows:

Information which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual's identity, such as their name, social security number, biometric records, etc. alone, or when combined with other personal or identifying information which is linked or linkable to a specific individual, such as date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name, etc.

So please people: Don't fall for the bullshit.

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I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

What Google do is with the consent of the users, ok so many didn't read the T&C's but that’s no excuse.

If you don't want them doing what they do then don't use their services.

What the NSA ( & others) are doing has no legal basis. No one ticked the box that says the NSA can read my mail.

Google are far from perfect but to blame them for what the NSA is doing is just stupid.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"No one ticked the box that says the NSA can read my mail."

Indeed not, but as Google successfully established with Gmail reading is not really "reading" is it? It's just hanging around innocently, whistling.

(/s).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

So are you saying that Gmail only scans the portions of the email that were written by Gmail account holders?

If someone who does not use Gmail (and who has not in any way agreed to Googles T&Cs) sends an email that ends up in a recipient's Gmail account (whether directly, or whether forwarded by the recipient from a non-Google email address) then how exactly has the email sender given "consent"?

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

If you don't want them doing what they do then don't use their services.

I don't.

But then what happens to my privacy when I have to interact online with somebody that does?

My emails to them or emails sent by them to me still get scanned and *my* privacy is invaded despite never having gone near the services offered by Google.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"I expect to get a zillion downvotes but... "

Not down voting at all, you do realise your standing at the top of a tall building shouting "Look at me, I'm a knob", don't you?

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

While google are not reading them the NSA probably are after something is flagged it will inevitably end up at the hands of another person who has not been given explicit permission to read your email. This is where the NSA are in the wrong. I am a google user and have no problems with them doing what need to do to market products etc as long as my data remains my data & isn't viewed by another human being without my consent unless otherwise authorised by the court of law.

NSA..... No Secrets Anymore

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Big Brother

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"No one ticked the box that says the NSA can read my mail."

It's beginning to look like Google did.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

And yet they STILL got you to tick a box to say it was OK.

And you still don't have to use their services.

And yet you still complain

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

But they don't go and kick your door in in the middle of the night or sick a drone on your arse.

If the monopolist of violence starts to snoop, things tend to get far more dicey real quickly. Amazingly, and counterintuitively, they also get far less legitimate.

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Big Brother

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

It's beginning to look like Google did.

Actually, the representatives said that Google did.

But ... muh democracy!!!

Yeah, about that, may I cite Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

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"Do No Evil" and Other Lies

After reading the utterings of a certain Mr Schmidt, co-CEO of Google I fully expect them to cooperate with the government's snooping efforts. Not grudgindly, but enthusiastically. They want to be part of something which is effectively a World Government. Having billions of dollars makes you want power, so that's their current activity - playing politics with YOUR DATA.

They boast about the capability to "shit tons of data from one datacenter to another". But they claim they cannot afford to encrypt those massive data movements. That's about as believable as "accidents under the nose of Al Capone". They are working in collusion with the government in order to play pollitics and all of this is entirely intentional. Ordinary Googlers are told it is "too expensive", but the senior leaders use YOUR DATA as a chip of influence in washington and wherever washington and NY throw around their weight.

Using Google services without an anonymizer (or using gmail at all) is a sign of a lack of intelligence, folks.

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(Written by Reg staff)

"shit tons"

I do that after eating bad curries. Have you tried suppositories?

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Wow, I have to agree with Orlowski on this, really. Indeed the Google argument is the exact same reasoning the NSA is using to justify the data slurp; PRISM and such isn't "reading" because no human eyes are reading the emails according to the spooks. The same arguments Google has used.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"the NSA probably are after something is flagged it will inevitably end up at the hands of another person who has not been given explicit permission to read your email"

Just as a thought experiment, imagine that NSA establishes an automated system that scans emails, searches for specific signals, and notifies human operators that the people involved are suspect. Without presenting actual emails to the human operators. According to your line of thought, that would be acceptable, no? Human-free system at Google learns something from users' email and make decisions about advertising tactics. Human-free system at NSA learns something from users' email and makes decisions about investigatory tactics. I don't see much difference.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Article quote: " Gmail performed an automated interception of your email"

Gmail is the end point of your e-mail, it is not intercepting it. If you create an e-mail in Gmail or you send an e-mail to a g-mail user then the e-mail resides in the g-mail system, it is not intercepted.

To view that e-mail it must be processed by Google to display it or download it.

@Vimes: "My emails to them or emails sent by them to me still get scanned and *my* privacy is invaded despite never having gone near the services offered by Google."

For any webmail service or even any e-mail client the data in an e-mail is processed and certain areas are analysed. For instance a hyperlink is recognised and surrounded by "href" tags. Or it uses the W3 or it's own spec to decide how to process tagged text or images.

Most providers also process ("read") your e-mails to decide if there are any strings that are regarded as spam or a virus. So nearly every e-mail system reads your e-mail (often actually "intercepting" them at a gateway) and searches for keywords and algorithms for spammy phrases or algorithms.

The difference is that with Google this results in Adverts being displayed if there is an algorithm match, with others there is a movement to another folder and perhaps a report about what type of spam was found.

You may dislike advertising, you may not wish to see it with your e-mail, totally understandable if you don't. You may not want ties with companies where the NSA has intercepted (probably all the big companies and most smaller ones) however the actual process of Gmail's scanning the e-mail is no different to anti-spam/anti-virus and often a lot less worrying privacy-wise as that can be done by a third party and actually intercepted without knowledge of the sender. If the complaint is about seeing adverts then fine (and can be resolved) but the complaint about your e-mail being processed/scanned/"read" to do it happens to nearly every unencrypted e-mail you send through the normal e-mail system every single day.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

'"No one ticked the box that says the NSA can read my mail."

Indeed not, but as Google successfully established with Gmail reading is not really "reading" is it? It's just hanging around innocently, whistling.'

Don't be so naive - you honestly think the security forces in the US and elsewhere were waiting for that (ill-considered) judgement before intercepting and/or scanning emails ?

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

There is a crucial difference. Google may well scan the email and then serve up relevant (splutter!) ads, but it doesn't then keep that email (unless you want it kept), the tokens used to determine the ad in question or anything other than the fact that an ad is served, payment is recorded against the entity supplying the ad and then that's the end of it.

The NSA grabs the data and stores it for processing at their leisure. We have no idea whether they're currently chewing through archived stuff from 2009 or whether their processing is fast enough to be somewhere in late 2013. If an ever more repressive government got its hands on that data it could rescan it all for any purpose and the send in the secret police at 3am to wherever it felt like.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

@DAM / Mencken

When in1789 American politicians framed a new democratic constitution, perhaps they distrusted the popular vote less than they distrusted each other.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Ah, but the constitution of the united states didn't establish a democracy. Democratic elements were involved in the election of representatives, but the fact remains that the United States were established as a republic, with decidedly undemocratic elements balanced against the democratic, in order to prevent mob rule.

The united states are not a democracy, and they never have been.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"Gmail is the end point of your e-mail, it is not intercepting it."

Umm, I think the person who has the account is the endpoint. gmail is simply the second last computer in the chain. (I'm assuming most gmail users use webmail rather than commuting to the Googleplex and logging in locally.) You might as well argue that the postman who delivers your letters is the end-point and therefore perfectly entitled to steam open your envelopes before shoving them through your letterbox.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Seems like playing on words to me; users do click a box saying that Google can collect and use the information in their emails, and not that the NSA can collect and use the information in their emails.

The exact definition you give to "read", "search", "scan" and "analyse" are pretty irrelevant here.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

"Umm, I think the person who has the account is the endpoint"

The email gets delivered to and sits on Google's servers. When you log on via webmail you are remotely accessing their server Google to render that email in a form you can view.

It's more like a telegram that is read out to you by a telegram boy rather than a postman. A postman is like an ISP who delivers mail to your own server. Check out some articles on SMTP for some more information about how it works.

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Constitution

Why do so many put the US constitution on such a pedestal?

It was an attempt to capture some ideals of some people, subject to their biases and interpretations and their woldview (including their technology).

At the time of writing, "Freedom for all" didn't mean for women, native americans, blacks and slaves (otherwise there would have been no need for the 13th, 14th, 15th and 18th).

"Freedom of religion" meant free from inter-Christian persecution. It didn't mean other faiths.

Since then it has had 27 bug-fixes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_amendments_to_the_United_States_Constitution), of which some are contradictory (18th and 21st). It should thus hardly be considered a foundation for a legal system.

The constitution guarantees nothing. At a stroke of the pen, the 28th amendment could be introduced which undoes the 1st or 2nd (just as the 21st undid the 18th). Given that the second half of the 1900s was the most active period of changes, it would seem that another flurry of changes is well overdue.

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Headmaster

Re: Constitution

Point of clarification: The process to create an Amendment is NOT done by "a stroke of a pen."

It is in fact, very elaborate and painstakingly hard.

And despite the US Constitution's initial lack of certain inclusions, women are now free, slaves no longer exists and everyone has equal rights and the primary civil rights Amendments were pretty clear about warrants and trials and rules of privacy and speech and assembling to redress grievances.

Most of which are now being violated every day by both the government and corporations.

So you see, the whole process of Amendments was a very clear acknowledgment that some things were left out, but could be added later as needed, but there had to be a VERY compelling reason, and undeniable will of the people, to do so.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Actually, the Post Office has it's equivalent, in the US, to collecting the business records (meta-data) collection. Anything on the outside is fair game and can be used to justify a specific warrant. They've been doing that forever.

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Re: "shit tons"

"I do that after eating bad curries. Have you tried suppositories?"

They'd just get blasted out in the effluage. A few second squirt from a can of expanding foam filler would cure it good and proper, though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

If someone who does not use Gmail (and who has not in any way agreed to Googles T&Cs) sends an email that ends up in a recipient's Gmail account (whether directly, or whether forwarded by the recipient from a non-Google email address) then how exactly has the email sender given "consent"?

Well done - you have stumbled upon the one fact Google tries to keep from you in many, many ways. The genius (evil genius even) lies not so much in the misdirection you can find in their help files, it lies in the fact that they let businesses take the rap. When you, as a business, foolishly decide to use Google for your business email, you are breaking the law - you, as a business. Not Google, you. The reason you are breaking the law (at least in the EU countries I checked) is exactly the one you have indicated, you are handing off personal data without consent. Given that you cannot be sure what the content of an email is that you receive you could even argue it would require *explicit* consent (UK requirement for data considered "sensitive").

This is why I have less of a problem with Apple, they're reasonably upfront about what they do (and are not in the data collection business), whereas Google (as far as I can see) has engaged in deceptive practices pretty much from the start (and in that I include the "do no evil" meme - it's astonishing how many people fell for that one). They know damn well that they were breaking the law, and they will continue to do so unless it becomes too costly in fines.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

the actual process of Gmail's scanning the e-mail is no different to anti-spam/anti-virus

Please do not repeat parts of Google's excuses here. There is NO similarity between scanning email generically for malware signatures and adding a flag to it when found, and scanning email for keywords which result in a personal dossier being built up for both sender and receiver. One is generic, the other version (Google's) is about as personal as you can get.

That you don't get this means their brainwashing is working.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

The email gets delivered to and sits on Google's servers. When you log on via webmail you are remotely accessing their server Google to render that email in a form you can view.

It's more like a telegram that is read out to you by a telegram boy rather than a postman. A postman is like an ISP who delivers mail to your own server. Check out some articles on SMTP for some more information about how it works.

@AC 22:35 - try not to lecture people on How Things Work as a way to avoid addressing the point, it doesn't work. The discussion was if Google is intercepting, and the weak argument was made that Google is the end point - it is not. Google is an intermediary between sender and receiver, and even the software used to send and receive is intermediary, and the use of the term intercept is thus correct.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Maybe the framers of the Constitution distrusted the popular vote less than they distrusted each other, but they didn't trust the popular vote very much. As the Constitution was written, neither the President nor the Senator were elected by popular vote, only the Representatives.

The Senate election procedure was changed in a snit over purchased state legislators or something similar, and the "progressives", so called, full of knowledge about how well the Senate works, are agitating for elimination of the Electoral College so that those of us North of Texas, East of California, Oregon, and Washington (state), and Southeast of New England may be relieved of participation in the matter of choosing the President.

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Re: Constitution

The process to create an Amendment is NOT done by "a stroke of a pen."

No, but the process of amending the US Constitution is - it's the recording of the amendment by the Archivist that causes it to take effect.

the whole process of Amendments was a very clear acknowledgment that some things were left out, but could be added later as needed, but there had to be a VERY compelling reason, and undeniable will of the people, to do so.

It was no doubt obvious to all of the Framers that the Constitution needed an amendment process. That's patently obvious to anyone with even the most basic understanding of history and law. So that fact is not going to bear much of the weight of your argument.

And as to whether an amendment must reflect the "undeniable will of the people": that's even more tenuous. Of the two processes for proposing an amendment, one is completely up to the legislatures of the several states, which the Federal Constitution does not require be representational.1 The other simply requires two-thirds of a quorum in both houses of the Federal legislature, and recall that when the Constitution was written, the Senate was not appointed by popular election. And here too the Federal legislature is representational in theory, but not so much in practice (and steadily becoming less so2).

Ratification, too, is done by the several states, and the manner of it is not determined by the Federal Constitution, and need not (in terms of Federal law) be representational.

The Framers were for the most part plutocrats who wanted to distribute political power among various competing interests to prevent any one faction from growing too powerful. The general populace was only one of those interests, and the Framers were not keen on over-indulging it (and suffering from "the tyranny of the majority", as Adams put it). It is very dubious that they introduced the amendment mechanism with the intent that it serve primarily as a vehicle for the "will of the people".

1And indeed state legislatures often are not very representational, thanks to gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, and other biasing factors.

2Obviously the 19th and 20th centuries saw improvement in Federal legislative representation with various amendments (13th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 26th) and acts (particularly the VRA). But representation is constantly being eroded by the methods I mentioned above, the gutting of the VRA, etc. It's also eroding "naturally" as the population gradient between most- and least-populous states grows (and so the Connecticut Compromise biases the proportions of representation further), and as the population of non-citizens (resident aliens) grows.

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Re: I expect to get a zillion downvotes but...

Just to add: "“Imagine if the government were to put an Echelon-style content filter on routers and ISPs, where it examines billions of communications and 'flags' only a small fraction (based upon, say, indicia of terrorist activity). Even if the filters are perfect and point the finger only completely guilty people, this activity still invades the privacy rights of the billions of innocent individuals whose communications pass the filter,” he wrote. “Simply put, if a computer programmed by people learns the contents of a communication, and takes action based on what it learns, it invades privacy.”"

So while many say its OK for Google, a for profit company who has few legal restrictions placed upon it, can and will read the mail. While I may not use Google, because they provide mail hosting domains for companies, they still read my mail when I send it to someone using Gmail and a 'vanity domain'. Unfortunately I don't have the ability to check that out ahead of time....

In short, I didn't agree to their snooping...

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MUAHAHAH!

Meanwhile:

Intel Committee (more like MinPrivacy, amirite?) Chair Rep. Mike Rogers:

You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated, right?"

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And this is the exact reason why I run my own mailserver. I don't use Google products now bar analytics, but even that is soon to change.

While the "Cloud" might be good, I'm all for the misery of setting up and managing my own systems.

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Well said. Freedom is work, only Slavery comes convenient.

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secure?

Running your own mail server makes you about as secure and private as communicating by postcards which you carefully lock up in a big iron trunk after the postie delivers them.

Your plaintext mails coming in and out of your network are trivial for the NSA to hover up. They have no need to access your mail server, though I am pretty sure they'd be able to if the wanted anyway.

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" I don't use Google products now bar analytics, but even that is soon to change."

You are probably already aware of this, but Piwik does an amount of the stuff that google analytics does and can be self hosted ..

http://piwik.org/

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and you never send email to @gmail.com addresses?

And no-one that you do email has an autoforward rule set up to to foward to @gmail.com.

How do make sure?

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Re: secure?

SMTP server-to-server can be secured using TLS. POP3 and IMAP can be secured using TLS, too.

Running your Personal Cloud indeed makes a lot of sense. Also run a TOR exit router and use TOR personally. I can attest it is indeed quite effective. It raises their snooping costs to the level that you must ACTUALLY be a terrorist to be identified as opposed to being an "information terrorist" (ie. somebody who calls out the scams of the rich, powerful and their cultist, untouchable friends in that oily country)

We The People can do something for freedom, and part of it is to boycott Google and Facebook. Run an RPI and personal cloud software. Get help from the local Linux or computer club. Freedom is work, Convenience is Slavery.

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Re: secure?

What plaintext emails? Most of my Exim headers contain the string AES-128 or AES-256.

Of course, if I keep the email on my server then it could be seized under judicial warrant, but if the only readable copy came from my end and I have deleted it then the contents can only remain in my head and that's not open to fishing trips from LEAs even if I haven't forgotten what was in it.

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Re: as secure and private as communicating by postcards

With G**gle's googlewashing of the meaning of 'read' and 'search', this also has a useful new meaning. Think about IT for a moment -> virtual postcards.

Aren't you thinking: subsubversion of G**gle's subversion. It's here, it's ready (AFAIK), and waiting for your... uhh... call. So, why give the NSA a little 6k email nibble, when you can give it a massive 600k byte JPG attachment; or if you're feeling particularly fractious AND|OR vociferous, a 6GB movie of what you did on you holidays to have, to hold - and to crack if they can.

Spell something like stegasaurus but with different phonemes on the end.

Have a nice day, NSA. You've really screwed the pooch with this one.

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Paris Hilton

Re: secure?

You are making unwarranted and uninformed assumptions about how his system is set up and communicates with other systems.

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