back to article Like a grotty data addict desperately jonesing for its next fix, Google just can't stop misbehaving

Here we go again. Google, that universal vacuum of all data created by humanity, can't seem to swim within the lane carefully laid out for it by regulators. With its ubiquitous tracking data attached to nearly every action on the commercial web – via a hidden "Push Page" – browser maker Brave asserts that Google has violated …

  1. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

    don't use google to search. or am I missing something?

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Indeed, I have an Android phone and I have denied the Google App permission to access the microphone so saying 'ok google' does nothing. I NEVER hit the Google search bar, in the previous Android flavour I managed to disable the entire Google App and the search bar disappeared. Though I couldn't put anything in the space.

      Trying that with this phone and a new flavour when it was new bricked the phone and required a hard restart. Why didn't the EU go to war over that? it did when MS wanted to tie Explorer into the OS as the Finder.

      I have a Startpage shortcut on the homepage for searches. On this Mac Startpage is the default search engine.

      Google Play Services was chewing up significant amounts of RAM, especially while trying to browse (emphasis on the trying, limited RAM) so I deleted its data and now they send me plaintive messages I ignore.

      I'm finally on Fb, but only for work purposes as my family has been warned. It bugs me to write stuff and give them my phone no. Such things can be ignored.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Presumably you're missing the fact that it doesn't matter what search engine you use if every site you subsequently visit has Google's tracking service embedded in it. Noscript and ad-blocking are pretty much required for any semblance of privacy, but with all kinds of fingerprinting methods that don't rely on third party scripts there's very little you can do to truly eliminate every way Google (and others) try to spy on you. Whether you use Google to search or not is largely irrelevant.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      You are missing half of the argument. They have the search data, but also all that tracking data that follows you around the web, even if you don't use Google to search, they still track you and profile you and use that to sell adverts.

      The don't use any search data is taking it at the simplest level. Better would be to not track the user at all, across the web, but sell adverts based on where you are currently. If you are on a motoring site, show ads for motor related stuff, or expensive watches, or Old Spice... Whatever.

      They don't need to know that I was at 3 other motoring sites, a cookery site and a furniture site to serve me an ad. And despite all this "intelligence" and tracking, I generally only get ads for stuff that doesn't interest me or stuff that I have already bought.

      The last example was dishwashers. Ours broke, I did some research and bought a new one, for the next 3 months the retailer where I bought the dishwasher (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers and sending me daily reminders about great deals on dishwashers!

      Other sites I visited also showed me dishwasher related ads. In the end, I installed a Pi-Hole server on my network and blocked about 2.5 million tracking and advertising domains (Facebook, for example, has something over 1,500 domains just for tracking and serving advertising).

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "Other sites I visited also showed me dishwasher related ads. In the end, I installed a Pi-Hole server on my network and blocked about 2.5 million tracking and advertising domains (Facebook, for example, has something over 1,500 domains just for tracking and serving advertising)."

        Wow, you went to a lot of effort just because you were being shown adverts for dishwashers!

        Whatever happened to just ignoring adverts if they weren't relevant?

        1. Spanners Silver badge
          Meh

          Ignoring adverts @Martin Summers

          I am not sure why your suggestion to ignore irrelevant adverts has upset people into downvoting your comment. However, unwanted adverts are only part of the problem caused by surveillance capitalism.

          As an adult, I can ignore what I don't want or like. Ad blocking software keeps the most intrusive crud off my screen but it does not stop whoever I do business with (such as Amazon) being aware of what I have already considered. It would not stop insurers being aware that I have already checked (or not checked enough) their alternative offerings. They will track all sorts off stuff that I get up to and pass it on to their clients including cars, houses, holidays, dishwashers and that's before you consider more everyday things.

          Yes, the Government may track me but that is much less of an everyday problem.

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: Ignoring adverts @Martin Summers

            "I am not sure why your suggestion to ignore irrelevant adverts has upset people into downvoting your comment"

            I'm guessing that it's because that suggestion has nothing to do with what the original comment was saying.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          "Wow, you went to a lot of effort just because you were being shown adverts for dishwashers!"

          I think he went to all the effort to avoid being spied on by Google, not because of a particular disdain for dishwasher ads. The ads were just the obvious sign that he was being spied on.

          1. VikiAi Silver badge

            Also, those ads cost the receiver bandwidth (and as a result - either directly or indirectly - money). Many of us are not into the whole paying-for-the-privelege-of-being-pointlessly-advertised-at thing. YMMV :-)

            * modest site-sponsorship advertising, I tend to give a begrudging pass to as a cost of receiving the site's service, but when it becomes obnoxious, I yank the plug, either on the ads, or when possible the entire site.

            1. Richocet

              Worse still is that sites often host scam ads, crypto-mining scripts, or hacks that directly attack me.

              It it outrageous that website owners say "I must be able to get some money from advertising to cover the cost of my site", while Google makes billions from selling this advertising, and they have such a low quality control of this service.

              I don't feel any obligation to accept this as a reasonable cost of visiting a site without paying.

              Clean up your act if you want this deal to be acceptable.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

        Why are you fretting about what ads are being shown, targeted or not? I nuke them all, across all sites, and my amazon page is practically the top tabs, immediately followed by "back to top". Poor amazon, every so often it tries to refresh (load all their ads). Likewise, when I click "Recommended for [my name]" it fails to load any crap. And I never get targeted ads on the web, because I (almost) never see any ads. 10 or so add-ons has this effect, you know :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

          I hate ads. I'm all against tracking. I block tracking companies and their ads.

          We all know how to do it.

          However, I'm fed up of the sanctimonious posts that are always posted here when the subject pops up, along the lines of "What are adverts? LOL, I never see adverts. I block them all"

          Yes, we get it.

          Still, blocking *ALL* ads, however innocent, just for the hell of it just makes you a sponger. You may as well write:

          Paying for items? Ha ha, what's that? I never pay for anything. It's easy to just walk out when the shopkeeper is looking the other way

          Now, I realise (and look forward to) all the downvotes because of my tortured analogy implying blocking ads is the same as stealing, but I don't mean that, I just mean the general smug attitude of someone thinking they are somehow special for blocking all ads on a page as if it's some pious activity.

          It's like morons who downvote android games for not being free.

          El Reg wouldn't be here without adverts.

          People need to eat.

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

            I agree with you, for the most part. I'm happy to pay for services.

            I'm just not happy to pay for them by giving up my privacy.

            If the website I visit serves me ads through its own site and doesn't track me across the web, I'll look at their adverts. If they offer a (reasonable) subscription service, I'd pay - I pay for a couple of sites I visit regularly already.

            If they are going to plaster their sites with dozens of tracking cookies and scripts, they will have to suffer the consequences.

          2. RyokuMas Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

            "El Reg wouldn't be here without adverts."

            At the risk of sounding like one of the sanctimonious spongers - until ads are limited to either blocks of text or single static images, and confined to the foot or right-hand side of the page, my blockers are staying firmly in the "on" position.

            I appreciate and accept the El Reg and many other sites need ad revenue. And I will quite happily whitelist any site that meets the above criteria ie: no full page background ads, interstitial overlays, animation and/or sound, javascript, content disruption, etc. etc. Oh, and that can also show that I don't need said adblocking to also block tracking.

          3. eldakka Silver badge

            Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

            Still, blocking *ALL* ads, however innocent, just for the hell of it just makes you a sponger.
            How so?

            Does window shopping at the mall make me a "sponger"?

            I am under no obligation, whether legal, moral or social, to watch, listen to or read any advertising, at all, ever (well, ok, barring one of those 'free conferences' where they'll pay for an overnight hotel stay if you attend their 'seminar' - one long ad session).

            If you don't want people viewing your content for free? It's called a paywall. Anything else is entirely voluntary.

          4. Mike 137 Bronze badge

            Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

            "blocking *ALL* ads, however innocent, just for the hell of it just makes you a sponger"

            With all due respect, not necessarily. Adverts only work if the convert to sales, and the typical conversion rate is a very interesting question.

            An ad that doesn't convert is a cost to the advertiser. However, in this competitive world, advertising is an assumed requirement, but it's difficult to establish how well it works. Enter the auction-based broker, that sits in the middle making money (directly or indirectly) from both sides.

            Google now largely dictates web site presentation, as SEO has become a dominant concern and they make the rules if you want to rank high. We get tracked regardless of our wishes, and advertisers pay fees for placement that depend on instantaneous demand for placement, regardless of return on investment. To what extent all this actually benefits the advertiser or the citizen is a very interesting question. It's certainly made Google (currently) the third most valuable company on the planet.

          5. JohnFen Silver badge

            Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

            "blocking *ALL* ads, however innocent"

            And how are people supposed to be able to tell which ads are "innocent" and which aren't? Without the ability to determine that, blocking everything seems a reasonable response.

            Personally, I don't block ads as such. I block Javascript and references to external sites (to block beacons) instead, because I don't object to the ads, I object to the tracking. That doing this also blocks almost all ads is just a side-effect, and one that I'm not concerned about in the least.

            The ad industry brought this on themselves by spending years (and a lot of money and effort) being evil. They (and websites that inflict that industry on us) can suck it.

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: (Amazon) was showing me ads for dishwashers

          I'm not fretting about the ads, per se, but about the tracking that is going on. If it was just the ads, I'd have installed an ad blocker. I didn't do that.

          I went to the root of the problem and blocked all trackers at the DNS level.

      3. Alterhase

        Why isn't Amazon smarter?

        I know that the topic of the article is Google, but I, too, have had Amazon keep sending me ads for something that I have already bought from them.

        It's particularly annoying for something long-lasting (like a dishwasher) -- can't they figure out that I would not be interested in another dishwasher for the next 10 year?

        So much for AI....

      4. veti Silver badge

        Hey, don't blame Google for Amazon's simplemindedness in ad targeting. That's Amazon's own biznai.

        Blame where it's due.

    4. Zolko

      @ cantankerous swineherd

      don't use google to search. or am I missing something?

      no, you're right, but that's for ElReg readers. What about the others ? My children for example don't understand why I use so strange settings and weirdo apps ("Qwant ? WTF is that, why don't you use Google ?")

      My favoured solution would more go into the direction of splitting Google, so it can't use it's dominant position in an area and reinforce it in another: search and mobile phone. Separate in 2 companies Google search and Android play store. If you like US examples, what they did with Southern Oil (SO → Esso) should be the better example.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Re: no, you're right.

        No, you're both wrong. It's google Analytics that is the real slurper. Search is nothing compared to the way they track us around the web

      2. Fred Goldstein

        Re: @ cantankerous swineherd

        That was Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller's company. It was split into about 39 separate companies. And after a few years, Rockefeller's stock in the many companies was worth about three times what it had been in one big company. So he cried all the way to the bank (which he owned too).

        As others have noted, search is not where Google is at its creepiest. It's their ubiquitous Google Analytics, and their other ad trackers, including DoubleClick (their ad network).

    5. JohnFen Silver badge

      I think you're missing all of the other non-search-related ways that Google spies on you.

  2. sbt Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Give me the child...

    ...and I'll give you the man (with PTSD, sexual hang-ups and a fear of small, dark spaces). I think that's what Ignatius was getting at.

    Anyway, not convinced that governments have adequately defined this lane that Google and co just can't seem to stay in. GDPR notwithstanding, it's still more like the wild west for PII at the moment.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Give me the child...

      "it's still more like the wild west for PII at the moment."

      Starting with the fact that every legal definition of "PII" that I've seen omits quite a lot of personally-identifying information.

  3. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Look, I hate to be the one who comments here and says this. I just cannot see what the actual issue is and what I'm meant to be afraid of. I've used Google and Gmail for many many years. Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data. I've not suffered any untoward consequences online or in the real world. I really don't understand the bogeyman stories. I'm getting a free service and yes advertisers know probably more about me than my wife, do I care about that? No not really. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter to me. So someone tell me what I'm actually meant to be afraid of, give me a really compelling reason, real demonstratable harm that shows why I should stop using Googles services and I will.

    PS: If I'm just going to get down voted and no factual answers to my genuine question then that's not really very helpful. If you just have an irrational hate of Google then fair enough just don't take it out on me.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      It's not that you should stop using google's services...

      It's that google shouldn't be allowed to monetise the data they have on literally everyone - whether or not they use google's services.

      I don't mind being shown ads relevant to the search I just made, or to the contents of an email I am reading (though that is slightly creepy it is also funding a service I am using.

      I do object to the near universal tracking which is going on - and the sheer number of companies doing said tracking.

      There is a not insignificant body of evidence to suggest that more than a few recent elections/polls were heavily influenced by people leveraging this data.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Totally understand where you're coming from on not being tracked if you don't use their services, I still don't see real world harm though.

        "There is a not insignificant body of evidence to suggest that more than a few recent elections/polls were heavily influenced by people leveraging this data."

        I would say if people are that easily influenced then that's the real problem. They could be influenced IRL just as easily as online. I believe they are called swing voters and that problem is greater for society than online advertising/tracking.

        1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

          Breakfast

          @Martin: a badly eaten bacon sandwich can probably cause as much damage as the best that CA can do.

        2. DougS Silver badge

          Real world harm

          I guess you must one of those "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" people who would have no problem with your government having access to all your emails, phone calls, etc. Or are you going to argue that letting the GOVERNMENT have it is a step too far, but letting a multinational corporation like Google have it is no problem?

          There's no arguing with the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" people. Go ahead, give up your privacy, I don't care. Just don't expect others to do it without a fight.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Anti-vaxxers.

          Boom. One real world example of searches and tracking helping to harm people by helpfully reinforcing myths, ridiculing solid science and encouraging book sales based around outright fraud.

          I'm fairly certain there's a large number of other modern day horrors being encouraged in the same manner from white supremacists to Jihadists.

          Being able to mine the data for valuable targets/victims/recurits/freedom fighters* is invaluable to these sort of groups. It's also drowning out the voices of the moderates who have better things to do with their time.

          (*delete as per personal preference/political belief/newspaper instruction/2 minute hate tells you)

      2. Al fazed

        elections/polls were heavily influenced

        Watch the film The Great Hack for documentary evidence obtained from Cambridge Analytica marketing material. Talk about laughing behind their hands !

    2. IceC0ld Silver badge

      I just cannot see what the actual issue is

      and that, sadly, IS the issue, Google, and the rest, are making BILLIONS out of you, and you are getting nothing for it, you say you see no harm, but again, when an organisation is able to figure out exactly how you will vote, holiday, shop, spend, they will know about all your friendships, and that includes any you wish to remain 'private'.

      but no, let them remain at large, tearing aside centuries of privacy in the chase for every last penny from you, and all the opposition is asking is that the search engines ONLY take the search term, and do nothing else with it

      for me, one word, maybe three :o)

      DuckDuckGo - https://duckduckgo.com/

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

        "Google, and the rest, are making BILLIONS out of you, and you are getting nothing for it,"

        But I don't care that they're making billions out of me. It's not like I can do it myself is it. I also am getting something for it, I choose to use their services.

        I don't care what private information they have on me because unless they're going to physically turn up in my life and cause trouble then I'm not bothered. They're not a mafia!

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

          You're right, google are not a mafia.

          When a real mafia like group gains access to this data then everyone you know, meet or have communicated with will be known to them, everywhere you've been will be known to them, everything you've looked at will be known to them.

          If they decide you're worth their attention what can you do about it?

        2. Diogenes Silver badge

          Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

          I don't care what private information they have on me because unless they're going to physically turn up in my life and cause trouble then I'm not bothered.

          Ever done or said anything when you were 15 that you would not have said now that you are a greybeard ? Annoy the right person, and hey presto, all those words/evidence will 'somehow' come out and your employer is being contacted to sack you because you are obviously a racist/sexist/trans hating fascist, your employer's suppliers and customers are being boycotted and by them buying from/supplying you they are also obviously endorsing these viewpoints, your children will be banned from schools, your wife will be shunned in polite society ...

          1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
            Paris Hilton

            Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

            <quote>...because you are obviously a racist/sexist/trans hating fascist...</quote>

            I thought that was just a requirement to get into office these days?

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

        No, no...I/we are getting something for it. We're getting a fair chunk of t'Interwebs. If Google can't make money somewhere down the line, there's no Google Search (and most other search engines rely on Google). Website analytics would be back in the Dark Ages (late 1990s). We'd be paying for our webmail, and satnav, and probably our online diary/calendars.

        So let them make enough money to cover all the goodies, but stop them gathering personal data that can be abused by a dodgy government (China? US? Russia? England?)

      3. The Bobster

        Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

        But you can get something out of the "billions they are making" by buying their stock, can't you?

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: making BILLIONS out of you, and you are getting nothing for it

        while I have google as much as I hate lawyers, politicians, etc, etc., I think it is VERY unfair to claim that we're getting nothing for it. We are getting something for it, and google maps / earth / books / search / gmail and all other "free" stuff (ah, yes, that android thingy too) is this something.

        I'm not claiming it's a good deal (I'd love to get this something for REAL "FREE", eh?), and it's not a fair deal in the sense that they don't tell you the real price, baiting you with FREE, but it is a deal. You give them your privacy, which you are not able to monetize, and they give you something for your privacy that they are able to monetize. And while I deplore that the humans are such cheap whores (and the long-term price will be, perhaps, devastating), a huge majority of my fellow earthlings decided it's a GREAT deal, so I can only deplore, and shrug, because no amount of pleading and explaining is going to change their nature.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: making BILLIONS out of you, and you are getting nothing for it

          "We are getting something for it, and google maps / earth / books / search / gmail and all other "free" stuff (ah, yes, that android thingy too) is this something."

          In that case, I'm getting nothing from it as I don't use any of those things. So why should I have to be spied on as well?

      5. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: I just cannot see what the actual issue is

        duckduckgo is fine for many folks. But in its early years Google spent a lot of time and money archiving data on old public domain documents. As a test, I asked both search engines for USGS Professional Paper 43 -- a number I picked at random. DDG wasn't useless. It gave me some links that might have allowed me to eventually find the paper -- as well as a bunch of links to random USGS publications. Google OTOH knows about USGS 43 -- "The copper deposits of the Clifton-Morenci district, Arizona". It gave me a link to the abstract and another link to a pdf of the document -- apparently a digitized image of the book from the USGS library.

        I think for researchers that Google may be a more effective search engine than Duck Duck Go.

    3. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

      How do you know?

      How do you know that the price you've paid for something or the choice of goods and services you've been offered or the political messages you've seen haven't been influenced?

      Look at it the other way around: is it remotely feasible that such a large amount of money is being spent offering you free services in order to collect as much data about you as possible with the sole intention that the data collected will be used impartially to your exclusive benefit?

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

        "How do you know that the price you've paid for something or the choice of goods and services you've been offered or the political messages you've seen haven't been influenced?"

        I shop around, I rarely buy anything that has been advertised to me, not sure why I'd pay more just because I use Googles services. How much I pay for something is how much I'm willing to pay.

        As for political views, I'm quite firm on those and have a bigger problem if I'm easily influenced by an advert I saw online.

        So still nothing that scares me here. No detrimental impact. As for your last comment about information not being used exclusively for my benefit. What examples do you have of Googles data on me not being used for my benefit? More so in a way that could harm me. I've not seen any results of that in my life at all so far.

        1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

          Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

          I agree completely with Mr. Summers, here.

          I, too, have used Google and gmail almost from the outset and never experienced any troubles.

          Adverts don't bother me - they are easy to ignore, and I do.

          Political influence? Don't make me laugh. My political views are completely private and unaffected anyone else's - I'll vote the way I want to vote, not the way you want me to. Your own views are of no interest to me at all - save for their comedic value.

          Along the same lines, I've never had any of my computers hacked or subject to a virus attack. (I once deliberately downloaded the EICAR test virus, just to see how the AV reacted to something 'bad'). Simple common-sense ensures my AV database is bang up-to-date, and a single look at an e-mail subject is enough for me to decide whether to open it or immediately consign it to the rubbish bin - which is then quickly 'emptied'.

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

            I'll vote the way I want to vote, not the way you want me to.

            That's what they want you to believe. Go look at the entire history of the advertising industry if you think you are immune to advertising (commercial or political).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

            > "Political influence? Don't make me laugh. My political views are completely private and unaffected anyone else's - I'll vote the way I want to vote, not the way you want me to. Your own views are of no interest to me at all - save for their comedic value."

            And *maybe* that's true about you, but if it was true about everyone, no-one would advertise in the first place. No-one would attempt to send political messages, and no-one would spend great amounts of money researching emotional responses to ads, and how best to frame them accordingly.

            Even if you are somewhat special, not everyone else is.

          3. veti Silver badge

            Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

            Oh please. You're saying your political views are immune to the information you see? That they can't be affected by the news?

            How does that work, exactly?

        2. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

          Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

          The data they have on you determines not only the ads you see but also the search results you see. This narrowing of your world is not something you think is harmful? It has some similarities with newspeak.

        3. RyokuMas Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

          "What examples do you have of Googles data on me not being used for my benefit? More so in a way that could harm me. I've not seen any results of that in my life at all so far."

          So you wouldn't be bothered if, say, Google knew your full medical history and started showing adverts for services related to things you might want to keep private?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not once have I been harmed by them having access to my data

        Slight off-topic analogy but a voyeur would argue that taking up-skirt pictures of all the females in a shop with a camera in a shopping basket is not doing any harm. He is just collecting "data" for his own use and analysis - and if they don't know it's been done, there is no harm - to his train of thought, at least. He may even be able to monetise that data amongst similar minded folks. However, such behaviour is seen by society as a whole as being morally reprehensible and is treated as such by the lawmakers.

        Google however, can gather as much info about everyone as they like, far more than most people realise is being gathered, and monetise it to maximum amount possible....

    4. big_D Silver badge
      Coat

      The problem is that it is very manipulative and it is very subtle. Google builds a profile on what it thinks you like and you get ads that get targeted at you based on that profile. It is then a circle, you see ads based on products Google thinks belong to your interests, you buy some of those products, it confirms that in your profile and it gets more specific.

      Don't actually like the product and you returned it? Don't worry, your profile still thinks you like it, so you get ads for it and similar products. You get news and articles pushed at you based on your profile.

      A profile and algorithm you can never see or correct.

      For some people, it can influence what they actually like. They are gullible and believe what they see and hear, they think they do actually want/need those products or believe in that news. Free will has gone.

      If the advertising is restricted to just profiling the sites you visit you won't get sucked into some irrelevant rabbit hole you can't escape from (for normal people).

      If you want a fun example of where this could lead, try reading Mark-Uwe Kling's Qualityland - why did The Shop send him a pink dolphin vibrator?

      Do you have Peter's Problem and not know it?

      Mines the one with the Kiss-Touch secured tablet in the pocket.

      1. DCFusor Silver badge

        Yet more...

        The data they (and the banks, what was that all about? Try opting out out Equifax or Experian.) sell to 5 eyes circumvents the 4th amendment in the US. I hear Europe has an ever more comprehensive thingie called GPDR?

        As someone who used to make a living as a sort of product developer/inventor, targeted ads are especially poisonous, because seeing things I never expected was often helpful - hmm, can I make a permanent magnet cyclotron for medical uses with these new magnets at a fraction of the current cost? An ad you never see can't inform you about some new interesting thing you might discover a new (profitable) use for.

        The divisive shouting match that politics has become almost everywhere is at least partly the fault of this siloing - and in the case of the big G, since they are part of the noisy minority, they think they're winning the arguments - they've siloed themselves. The press losing money on everything other than outrage clickbait hasn't helped, but they're not the only actors here.

        And will probably be surprised again when or if people's votes are more or less honestly counted.

        That's the worst part in some ways - when they believe their own lies...

    5. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      I'm interested to know Mr Summers if you would be happy with the police and government having the ability to read your every email, track your web browsing habits, track your phones location at all times, etc.? Even if the reading/tracking was being done by some "algorithm" that worked for the government?

      I can only assume your answer is yes, because you seem to be very trusting of a firm that has no external checks and balances to make sure its not abusing that data. At least the police and the government would have the external check of the Courts of Law and the various Ombudsman's to try and make sure that the government is obeying the laws as they are written.

      The few times that things have leaked out of google, it has almost always been found to be breaking and abusing laws in its quest to suck up more data. Which I would argue makes it a firm which has proven it is untrustworthy. And yet you seem happy to trust it... hmmm...

    6. ThatOne Silver badge

      > So someone tell me what I'm actually meant to be afraid of

      You're meant to be afraid of the day somebody misuses all that data they have about you, using it against you. You will be able to run, but you won't be able to hide.

      Now obviously somebody will ask why such a thing might happen. Well, Murphy's Law says that since that possibility exists, it is bound to happen: Your government going rogue because of some madman with a paintbrush mustache got elected, somebody hating you because of personal or professional reasons, there are many reasons somebody might want to harm you. And you'll have given them everything they need to do a thorough job.

      And that's without even mentioning people who actually have "something to hide". Not necessarily terrible secrets like being a gun-for-hire for the mafia, just simple, commonplace secrets like an extramarital affair, or being mildly attracted to pleasures not specifically endorsed by the Bible. Oh how much that colleague you're in competition with about that promotion would like to know that you secretly [something embarrassing]... And right now he can learn about it, that information is ready, waiting for him, just a modest sum of money away.

    7. sed gawk Silver badge

      The Problem:

      So here's the thing, on average you are not really at any major risk by using google services.

      The issue, is on a population level it's possible to build classifiers based on having access to a large pool of data and labels for both negative and positive examples of the trait under classification.

      https://towardsdatascience.com/machine-learning-classifiers-a5cc4e1b0623

      Given the amount of data held by FAAG collectively, it's possible to figure out how to nudge people into certain behaviours.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica

      Using these services is helping train the machine that will enslave us, which sounds like the deluded ravings of a crank, I admit. So here's a TED talk on the matter https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/facebooks-role-in-brexit-threat-to-democracy-carole/id160904630?i=1000435096625

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think that perhaps you might be in the minority here but you are making the dangerous assumption that everyone is the same. Heck, I have used google for many years previously. When Farcebook first came out I was all over that. Not everyone is attuned to ignoring adverts and shunning the influences of the internet.

      But also, if you think that adverts do not affect you in the slightest then you are being horribly naive. I would hazard a guess that if I asked you to name a few memorable adverts from younger years gone past you would have no problem spewing back a few. I know that kids of today would be able to name more than a few. Granted those are more tv/radio adverts but adverts non the less.

      Ok, so currently I couldn't give you an example of Google not being evil. Fair enough. Though I think it is perhaps only a matter of time.

      But I think the problem runs much, much deeper than that. Your comments leads into conversations I have had many times over with friends/family when I have asked them to take down pictures of my family from Farcebook or advised them against using Faceapp and such programs. The response I always get is "Ahh.. what do I care if some company has all this information on me. It doesn't affect me".

      So you use their app for a laugh and they now have rights over your image. Could potentially use your face in haemorrhoid cream adverts in Malaysia or whatnot. But hey, what should I care. It's not like I am in a position to monetize my face in advertising. And granted if you tried you probably wouldn't get much work. Heck I know I wouldn't buy anything with my ugly mug on it.

      How about that Harvard student that was denied entry into the US over his friends social media posts. Sure it got overturned eventually but that was authorities abusing their power you say... oh yes indeed. And that never happens in this world right?

      Your grandmother (bless her heart who doesn't know about all this tech stuff and has her Social media open for the world to see) posting some holiday pictures to come home and find her house has been robbed. Sure, it might have happened and the miscreants could have just done some legwork to find out the same information. But no point in making it easy for them.

      I regularly get spam phone calls on my mobile phone. I am guessing from forms or collected data that has been sold/hacked at some point.

      As a real world hypothetical would you feel as happy handing over all your information to the authorities in Beijing before you went on a trip there? Perhaps they see that you once participated in a protest. Now you are on a watch list.

      I realise that perhaps this is all a bit extreme and alarmist, but you have to see that in the wrong hands this information could be a dangerous thing.

      TLDR:

      The point with companies having this information is that they seem to have a entitled view on your data. If you are not paying for a service/product then you ARE the product.

      Add to that Knowledge is power. When you are giving companies all the power and saying you are happy for them to sell you as a product, all for an easy search tool, then you obviously hold your own worth in very low regard.

    9. Symon Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Let's say you search for life insurance. But the provider also knows that you've been previously been googling bareback gay bars, prep and hypodermic needle supplies. And holidays in Haiti. Except that it wasn't actually you googling that, your brother-in-law (say) was using your browser. Anyway, do you think that the insurance company might adjust your premium?

      I know, reductio ad absurdum and all that, but I think you can see the point. Try this:-

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nothing_to_hide_argument

    10. JohnFen Silver badge

      "advertisers know probably more about me than my wife, do I care about that? No not really."

      Cool, then you don't have to worry about these issues.

      A lot of people (including myself) do care, though. Whether or not anyone has suffered direct harm (and how could such a thing be shown either way?) is irrelevant.

      The relevant point is that if data about me or my machines is being collected about me without my fully informed consent, then I'm being spied on. I object to being spied on. I wouldn't be happy with some company installing cameras in house to watch me, either, even if they never otherwise harmed me by doing so. Would you?

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        "I wouldn't be happy with some company installing cameras in house to watch me, either, even if they never otherwise harmed me by doing so. Would you?"

        No! Because that's very bloody different! Jeez. I've given up commenting on this topic because this single post demonstrates that people cannot distinguish between someone knowing 'private' information from their online persona and the real life real world you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No problem, Martin (is that your real name?)

          What's your phone number, address, and date of birth? Just in case we all want to phone you to wish you a happy birthday, or maybe send you a card.

        2. JohnFen Silver badge

          "Because that's very bloody different!"

          There's where we differ. I don't think it's different at all. You don't have an issue with any of this, and that's perfectly acceptable. I do, however, and shouldn't be subjected to spying.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Sadly you are both right. The cameras are there already - but in a very different way than imaginary Big Brother spy cams in the roof or potplants.

            The real cameras were paid for, installed and maintained by the person being watched. They even come with microphones attached for when you put that handy camera in a pocket. And a GPS recorder to coordinate with data from other mobile cameras and microphones as backup sources.

            There is no shame in hiding from that reality Martin. But don't try to convince us it is good or okay.

            Since debates need facts, here are some citations from the past 1 year:

            * 2018 Jul - Panoptispy: Characterizing Audio and Video Exfiltration from Android Applications

            https://recon.meddle.mobi/papers/panoptispy18pets.pdf

            * 2018 Aug - Google Data Collection

            https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/08/24/google_data_flows_study/

            https://digitalcontentnext.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/DCN-Google-Data-Collection-Paper.pdf (see Appendix A, these profiles are *for sale* and have a lot more details than summarized here.)

            * 2018 Oct - Class action lawsuit for ongoing data collection after explicit opt-out, https://regmedia.co.uk/2018/10/23/google-location-data-lawsuit.pdf

    11. Mephistro Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Martin, imagine that for some reason you do several searches and visit several webpages related to some serious disease. It could be because you suffer that disease, or it could be because one of your relatives or friends does. At some point, that data will be collated, classified, associated with you and studied by an AI (in reality, a machine learning system) that will assign you an estimation of the probability that you suffer that particular disease. It will create a similar estimation for your close relatives and for your friends, whose identities "unique identifiers" will have been gleamed from social networks, phone agendas, shared images and the whatnot.

      The issue will become noticeable to you if/when you want to obtain life/medical insurance and they send you an estimate much more expensive than what other people pay for the same insurance. Insurance execs tend to overshoot when winnowing out "possibly problematic customers", so if the probability assigned by "The Algorithm" is bigger than, say, a 2% you can either pay double than everybody else or eff off.

      A similar thing happens if you are looking for credit. "The computer says NO".

      Ditto about seeking employment, trying to rent a home...

      Google, FB et al. don't care if they cause you to live in a cardboard box and fish your meals in trash cans for the rest of your life, as long as they can extract all your data, and then sell it to any possibly interested buyer.

      "Don't do evil" my arse!

    12. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Think about it just a little - maybe you will care.

      I really dislike that tired old argument: "Sure, Google are evil scum who track me everywhere, but I don't care."

      Stop and *think* for a minute or two. Perhaps you don't understand the real value of *your* data. Perhaps Google do.

      A quick check of the Google Market Cap would indicate that Google are getting far more value from *your* data than you realise. And they use that revenue to cross-subsidise (aka 'dump') other products such as mobile phones and email into the market, hurting innovation and competition from other would-be startups.

      (Seriously, if someone wanted to make a *new* Smartphone OS, or any other OS, or email system, or web browser, or social network, or web drive, or <whatever> today - what would their business model be? If the only answer is 'give it away for free', then the damage done is irreversible).

      You've surrendered your privacy and aided the destruction of privacy for others, while simultaneously assisted in harming innovation and competition. Then you have the gall to say that you don't care.

  4. alain williams Silver badge

    And other service providers

    Eg: your ISP, your 'phone company, your travel card company (eg London's Oyster), your email provider, ...

    These all have an insight into what you do and see where you go. The email provider is one of the most dangerous as it can also scan what you/your-mates are saying.

    And 'no': these should be forbidden from getting your 'agreement' by adding something to their T&Cs (that few read and fewer can understand).

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: And other service providers

      "these should be forbidden from getting your 'agreement' by adding something to their T&Cs (that few read and fewer can understand)."

      This. I don't think that a reasonable argument can be made that a few lines in terms & conditions or a privacy policy can count as "informed consent".

  5. not.known@this.address Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

    My online activity is not going to help them should they choose to try to change my voting habits or any of the other nefarious activities they are being accused of - and hopefully No Such Agency and the Cousins will realise I don't really know anyone with access to high-energy man-portable plasma guns, faster-than-light starships and the current whereabouts of The Zombie Master...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

      But this doesn't stop them from trying and it is irrelevant if they succeed or not at influencing you. They will sell it to their clients as a success. It's the same thing with cows, they will be miked either they are outraged or not by the massive invasion of their privacy.

      As for voting, I'm still waiting for a person or organization that will convince me to vote.

      1. no user left unlocked

        Always vote.

        You should always vote, if and it sounds like it, you are like me then there is no one you want to have your vote. So turn it around and make it damage mitigation time. Who to vote against, who to protect yourself from.

        If you've done this much then you've the right to bitch and complain and rail against those in power. Its that Burke quote “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” in another form.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Always vote.

          I agree that everyone should vote. Whether or not it makes a difference (and I think it does, although not as much of one as it should) is irrelevant. Voting is one of the most basic responsibilities that comes with citizenship.

          As the old saying goes, "voting may not make any difference, but it's essential that you do it anyway."

          "If you've done this much then you've the right to bitch and complain and rail against those in power"

          We differ here, though. Everyone has that right whether or not they vote. Also, this line of thinking lets people off the hook too easily -- they can just say "OK, then, I won't bitch", which just makes things worse.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

      The internet is full of people saying "no one can influence my vote". Those same people are always the ones who say "advertising doesn't work on me". I mean, there are probably 80% of people who will either vote for or against Trump and nothing will change their mind. They don't care about those people, they want the 20% who aren't certain yet. There are a lot of people who will only buy Pepsi or only buy Coke. They don't care about those people, they care about the ones who can be influenced.

      Overall these things are effective on enough people that advertising/influence marketing is a multi billion dollar industry.

      1. Esme

        Re: Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

        Well said, DougS! Whilst I am one who will, for brevity, say that I am an ad-slingers nightmare, because I tend not to be influenced in my purchasing by ads, in my case, that's shorthand for "I am not so easily swayed that I am going to switch from a brand that i know and like due to an advertising campaign, nor will I buy something I don't need due to an advertising brand" . Reality tends to be more nuanced, however

        I find some adverts very cute and engaging - I actually miss seeing certain ads involving meerkats since I stopped having a TV licence, which I did because I realised I watched TV so seldom. I loved Sergei! Never in a month of Sundays was I likely to use the services provided by those behind the adverts Sergei was in. Similarly, nothing on the earth is going to persuade me to buy A Certain Brands chocolate over Another Certain Brands chocolate because I know with certainty that I prefer the taste of the latter product better. So that's ads shown to be non-influential then?

        Edge cases. Situations where there's no strong case for one brand over another, in quality price or utility, any of 'em will do, and there's no trust issues involved (some companies I will NOT deal with because I believe them to be unethical). What will then sway me is which is more convenient to deal with, and if that's much of a muchness - yep, how funny their adverts are! :-)

        Well what about ads for things that I didn't know exist before? I can't recall specifics, but I know that a couple of times in my life I've stumbled across an add for something whose very existence I was previously completely unaware of, could immediately see the utility of, and on the strength of that bought said item. In the absence of advertising, no sale would have been made.

        Where I think things go horribly awry is in the sheer amount of money put into marketing (waves, smiling, at adverts with oodles of CGI!)., especially when it gets to the extent that a noticeable percentage of the cost of the item being purchased is due to the advertising for it. This is insane. See, no matter how much advertising is thrown at me, I only have so much money to spend, so I can only consume so many products. Once consumers know which products exist, all that advertising does is have SOME effect on which brands get purchased to what extent.

        Many years ago, a supermarket by where I used to live started selling a range of "unbranded" products in very plain packaging for which they did no advertising beyond plonking the products on the shelves. They were markedly cheaper than well-known branded items because no money was spent on advertising them. I tried them, and for the most part found them to my liking well enough that I switched to that "non-brand", except, I think, for the breakfast cereal which just didn't taste quite so well to me (I had a sweeter tooth back then - I might be fine with the same product now). This was great, it saved me money so I was able to afford the occasional treat a little more frequently - whilst that range lasted.

        Sadly, evidently not enough other folks bought 'em, and the range got dropped, which mystified me (seems a win-win situation to me for consumers and producers and retailers alike!) until I came across an article that gave insight into why those sorts of brands often didnt last - because many folks associate higher prices with better quality or simply luxury, never mind "the kids will only eat xyz brand". So poor folk eat what they must, wealthier folk eat what they can afford, whilst rich folk take their pick and have gold leaf sprinkles on it as well - to show off their status. No, I don't think like that, and I suspect many here do not either, but we're not exactly representative of society as a whole, now, are we?

        So yeah - I'm far from easily swayed by advertising, and advertising will not induce me to buy stuff that I do not want/need, but am I utterly uninfluenced by it or unaffected by it? No.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

          Advertising really does influence people's behaviors. If it didn't, then it wouldn't be a multbillion dollar business.

          The irony is that a lot of people will claim it doesn't work on them -- but statistically speaking, people who believe that tend to be even easier to influence through advertising than those who don't.

    3. Diogenes Silver badge

      Re: Good luck trying to use my Facebook account or Google searches to predict how I will vote...

      I don't really know anyone with access to high-energy man-portable plasma guns, faster-than-light starships and the current whereabouts of The Zombie Master...

      No, but they know statistically those who are interested in such things tend to vote (insert name of party), are male, in their (insert age) , they tend to be (insert marital status) ... unless you randomly seek out youtubes of say Bernie & the Donald, pro/anti brexit , access both the Hufpo & the NRO , go to realclimate and wattsupwiththat , KKK and SPLC ... you get my drift

  6. Al fazed
    Devil

    Kiddy fiddling

    Apart from the kiddy fiddling going on at Google HQ where adults monitor input, especially input from voice commands, there's the diabolical fact that they pay no tax, or very little in the country where they make their advertising money from.

    I wouldn't mind if their search results were any good.

    recently Google seems incapable of using a search string with any degree of accuracy.

    I search for ceramics collections in Manchester UK, with results from New York, promoting ceramics "workshops", "studios", exhibitions of anything but ceramics from years gone by, shopping for pottery, agregation web sites repaeting the search results above. Press "see more" and I get the above repeated twice more in teh same order.

    Generally speaking, I'd say they have lost the plot and are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Kiddy fiddling

      Generally speaking, I'd say they have lost the plot and are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

      But they have the bestest AI and analytics! I agree that trying to search can be extremely painful, so perhaps a -shopping tag could be added so you don't get ads instead of info.

    2. -tim
      Coat

      Searching but not finding, not understanding anyway, we're lost in this masquerade

      In todays prices it would take less than $10,000 in modern hardware to do as much processing as Google was doing at the time they took over as a better search engine than Altavista.

      I do miss the "near" and quoted string of words feature of Altavista. I also miss the decent part number lookup that Google used to be very good at.

    3. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Kiddy fiddling

      "I wouldn't mind if their search results were any good."

      I'd still mind. But you're right -- that Google's search quality has fallen so far is just rubbing salt in the wound.

  7. Evil Scot
    Big Brother

    An another thing. How do we know the data they hold is correct?

    Installed an Android Auto Stereo in my car.

    Monday

    Get in in the morning " Are you driving to work?" "Yes"

    Get in in the evening" Are you heading Home?" "Yes"

    Tuesday

    Get in in the morning " Are you driving to work?" "Yes"

    Get in in the evening" Are you heading Home?" "Yes"

    Wednesday

    Get in in the morning " Are you driving to work?" "Yes"

    Get in in the evening" Are you heading Home?" "Yes"

    Thursday

    Get in in the morning " Are you driving to work?" "Yes"

    Get in in the evening" Are you heading Home?" "Yes"

    Friday

    Get in in the morning " Are you driving to work?" "Yes"

    Get in in the evening" Are you going to Stay at the YMCA?" "FFS NO!!!!! I'm visiting Mum (about 10m away)"

  8. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Actions not people?

    I'm old enough to remember the early Google. You searched for 'X' and at the top of the results you got several sponsored results offering 'X' for sale. Down the right hand side were further adverts (Adsense?) that also offered 'X'. If you clicked on an ad the person behind the ad gave Google some money.

    That seemed to work pretty well on the whole. Ads relevant to my search.

    The geo-location of servers, and the local/national versions of the domains means that the adverts can be focussed - at least a lot more focused than on TV or other national media.

    Go for it - ban gathering data on users!

    1. Mike 125

      Re: Actions not people?

      >I'm old enough to remember the early Google.

      Me too. The irony of this is that now, Google as a searcher (I refuse to call it an 'engine') doesn't actually work well. Back then, the results were stunningly accurate- it was a revelation. Indexing cross links is a super effective method to get high quality results... until money corrupts the index. Then it all goes to sh't. I could forgive some of the data issues if the search worked like it used to.

      Having said that, it's disturbing that some people on here don't seem to appreciate the superpower which Google's data operations yield.

      1. Mike 137 Bronze badge

        Re: Actions not people?

        It's difficult to understand the mechanism of the search these days. Even for non-commercial sites, the results returned vary day to day from the same search terms, and Google interprets your search terms in what seems an arbitrary manner - e.g. sometimes, adding a search terms can increase the number of returned results. One can only assume that they're not responding directly to your search terms, but to some local interpretation of what they think you intended to mean. Ergo, Google is trying to do your thinking for you.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          Re: Actions not people?

          I think of it is very simple terms -- even ignoring privacy issues, Google search these days is just broken.

  9. Stuart Halliday
    Pirate

    Obviously there are people who don't think that this monitoring is wrong and it's these people who should be punished. After all, they'll just move on to the next company and start up again once Laws come to pass.

  10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Interesting...

    It's interesting because this isn't the first time that this sort of thing has been either reported on, or proposed on El Reg over the years - but this time it does feel as though there is an ever growing groundswell of resistance against these sorts of companies, both from (somewhat ironically) a social element, but also from a more political and legislative arena. The issue remains however that too many people in positions of "power" are still making far too much money from trying to keep the status quo intact - which for me means that the real change will come when we get better educated politicians into power, rather than power mad idiots who seem to have made a lot of money from their businesses and then just buy their way into power - as we see mostly in US politics. It's a real worry that in the UK we'll be losing a lot of these protections (and a whole lot more to boot) once we exit the EU.

    I'd like to make two points however on the story : re "Yet at no point along the way did any Googler involved in this say, "Hey, just a minute here!" and stop these – and too many other outrages to mention here – from happening." Yes, that's a very easy moral criticism to make, and I'm not saying you are incorrect; however the realities of work-life in the US are such that the risks of being fired, or without medical insurance for your family, or put on some IT blacklist are very real prospects for a lot of white-collar employees. Walk a few miles in those weary shoes and see if you'd make the same moral choice when balanced against your families well being.

    As for Google itself - you can actually do a lot of stuff very quickly to reduce any issues you may have with them... (A) you don't actually have to have to a Google ID or account, or log into their servers to use many of their services. This in itself eliminates an awful lot of their ability to link your browsing habits to any data-flogging persona they may have on you. (B) For search you can use Disconnect or Startpage via (C) a spoofed IP or VPN for added dislocation. Then (D) there is the instant ditching of Chrome and replacing it with Firefox configured with any number of excellent add-ons such as AdBlock, NoScript, Ghostery, Privacy Badger etc. etc. Firefox even has a few add-ons that are called this similar to "F**k you Google" or "FaceBlock" etc.

    Food for thought.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting...

      the realities of work-life in the US are such that the risks of being fired, or without medical insurance for your family, or put on some IT blacklist are very real prospects for a lot of white-collar employees

      And that itself is an indication of just how fucked up the Land of the Free has become.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Interesting...

      "Walk a few miles in those weary shoes and see if you'd make the same moral choice when balanced against your families well being."

      I have! The couple of times when companies I've worked for have required me to do things that I felt were bad for customers or society at large, I've quit those jobs. Temporary disruption and hardship while looking for a replacement job is a small price to pay in order to avoid doing unethical things or otherwise becoming part of the problem.

  11. Alchemi

    Multiple trains at large

    The problem we see here, and for that matter, in a large number of other issues here in the US, is that the perceptions are different.

    The fact is that Google is providing a service at no direct cost but is making money from your use of the service. Kind of like a free-to-trade broker, right?

    The problem is that they know or want to know everything about you. They know where you sleep, where you work, who you talk to, what you search for, where you shop IRL. They once said that they wanted to be so ingrained that if you were out of milk and you were passing by a grocery store, they would remind you to get milk. I forget, did they get patient records in the UK? So maybe they know about your cancer and herpes too.

    At one level, that's kinda cool. I mean, there's your personal secretary that can help schedule your *entire* life. For free. But they don't actually work for you. And we're not real sure what they're telling others. And if that treasure trove of data were ever breached, how do you think that'd go?

    My grandmother and I were talking once about the government and surveillance after 9/11 and one of her responses was the typical 'if you don't have anything to hide, why would you worry'? In today's world, is there a truly private place you can go? Think about that. (Again, cool at one level but...) The problem is that there's no clear chain of custody once the data you generate goes to the cloud (most clouds really, not just Google), at a personal level. Anything you do from now to forever is out there and could bite you in the ass.

    I still content that Google is the nicest overlord we'll ever have. (Full disclosure - I finally personally own an Android as about 2 months ago. Some of the things that have happened since then weird me out and I look forward to getting my replacement non-google phone)

    1. Inkey
      Headmaster

      Re: Multiple trains at large

      The distortion of value is crazy we have in effect sold our basic human rights of autonomy and privacy to an open market.

      But hey if you have cardlytics stock you're up 400%

      Its mad to think that the interbutts works because of these parasitic entities ... And it's like that in politics, and any other organisation that has more access than what it can legitimately control in a meaningful way.

  12. Bertieboy

    Only a naive moron who does not understand how all the (mainly tax free) money generated by these obscenely intrusive habits is used to buy politicians and eventually adversely effect us all could consider no harm done!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Collecting and selling info - an example

    I recently was trying to find out someone's phone number. (Someone I knew, and really needed to call for legit reasons, but had failed to get his number.) Stumbled on a site called MyLife.com, with profiles on apparently everybody. For a small fee, I could get my "full" profile. Curious, I looked up mine (*free* profile, no account needed) - and saw my birthdate as one of the first pieces of information.

    I'm in the US. Birthdate is (unfortunately) used to authenticate me for a number of organizations, particularly medical providers. Yet a company I had never heard of had gotten it from "public records" and published it on their website for anyone to view. Basic identity theft starter kit! I've had them remove my listing, but can't help wonder just how many other places my personal data is published without my knowledge.

    Given my full legal name, birthdate, and home address, could a criminal trick an organization into giving them the last 4 digits of my social security number (another common authentication item), then use that to trick another organization into providing the rest of it? Complete identity theft.

  14. Garymrrsn

    The Real Crime

    By selling your secrets, Google is selling your competitive advantage.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is no one creating petabytes of crap data to spaff to Google ?

    basically upping the noise to drown out the signal ?

    And if not, why not ?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google cannot stop misbehaving

    alternative story: they've grown so big and complex that the right tentacle doesn't have a fucking clue what the left-bottom-centre-mid-rear tentacle's doing. And vice-versa. I say, shoot the poor beast, end its misery, mercy killing and all that...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google pays you to troll it.

    Download the Android Google Opinion Rewards app and Google will regularly send you short surveys to fill in, crediting small amounts (10 -30p) to your Play account for your answers. I've been telling them all sorts of nonsense for a couple of years now and earn enough to rent the odd movie etc. off them. There's not much the little guy can do to rage against the machine, but I like to think I'm doing my part to feed them noise. And err, that's also why those searches for XL-sized REDACTED REDACTED are in my search history.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Google pays you to troll it.

      Great. So they actually offer one legitimate, up-front service ("answer our questions, and we'll pay you in credits, and you'll see exactly how much you earn"), and you deliberately sabotage it?

      And then you wonder why they do all the dodgy spying stuff.

      Now, play with their analytics if you want - that's cool, but if you're not going to play fair on their rewards program, don't bloody use it, because if they get loads of useless data off that, they'll just can it and continue focussing on the dodgy stuff.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Google pays you to troll it.

        They were doing all the dodgy spying stuff long before they even birthed Android, never mind the Opinion Rewards app so I'm not going to feel too guilty about my one-man stance sending them down an ethical black hole. And with the very much rate-limted number of surveys they dole out (no more than a few a week), I suspect my nefarious activities are unlikely to send them too far in that direction.

        TBH, you're probably doing their business model more harm with the odd search typo or use of AdBlock or NoScript or simply not looking at the ads...

  18. chivo243 Silver badge
    Headmaster

    it can't be stopped?

    I wonder if G's mail search etc services would function if the slurping was completely turned off?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: it can't be stopped?

      It has been, and it does.

  19. JohnFen Silver badge

    Already there

    "On current trend, it won't be long until Google is seen as the moral equivalent of Facebook – utterly corrupt and to be avoided whenever possible."

    In my eyes, Google had reached that point years ago.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Already there

      It was more like Facebook came out of nowhere and stole Google's crown, which the latter now desparately want back.

  20. Chris the bean counter

    US Banks do use transaction data to serve up Ads

    Nearly all US Banking transactions (and some UK) are processed by a company called Cardlytics (Some of the staff previously worked on Tesco Clubcard). They analysed 5 trillion transactions last year.

    Not sure about creepiness but Cardlytics share price is up nearly 400% this year so I am not complaining :-)

  21. Detective Emil
    Meh

    The complete list of alternatives to all Google products

    Here's a useful recent article from TechSpot. Loading it without an adblocker pulls in 79 elements from Google domains …

  22. Douglas Wardle

    They're already at FB levels

    "On current trend, it won't be long until Google is seen as the moral equivalent of Facebook – utterly corrupt and to be avoided whenever possible."

    There was a recent article that called the use of ad-blockers and other privacy software the greatest consumer boycott in history. No small wonder, considering how invasive the business has become. If I read a newspaper the ads may or may not convince me to buy a product. On-line, the ad is half (or less) of the effort, the other half (or more) is to harvest personal data. The sheer volume of anecdotes of in-your-face targeted web advertising should be enough to convince people to tame the beast however they can.

  23. Donn Bly

    Won't Happen

    Law can mandate that search data remains entirely private: never stored, profiled or sold

    As much as it would be nice, it will never happen. It won't happen because the governments of the world WANT that search history. How many times have you read an article about someone being accused or even charged with something although there was a lack of physical evidence implicating them because their search history revealed something that could be spun to be navarious?

    By the way, if you ever search "how to kill someone" or "how to dispose of a body" (say, as trying to get ideas for plot points in a short story you are writing) you had better hope that nobody around you ever dies, because they WILL try to use that search against you.

  24. sales@

    You do not have to use Googgle to search. I adopted Duck Duck Go a couple of years ago and it works very well.

    Old Hand

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Avoiding the use of Google search doesn't solve the problem.

  25. martinusher Silver badge

    Why not describe to everyone how the entire Web ecosystem works?

    Instead of just insinuating how Big and Bad Google is why not explain how the entire desktop ecosystem works? The truth is "everyone's at it" and Google's just the best at what it does. The fact that what everyone's doing is a sophisticated piece of traffic analysis that lays bare everyone's soul -- and not just everyone who uses that particular service -- seems to get lost in the wash. It shouldn't be this way, I've been grumbling about this for literally decades (not just because of the connection graphs but because their crapware (sorry, 'scripting') is gumming up my computer) but if you shut it down then an entire industry and thousands and thousands of jobs would just evaporate (so I can't see that happening).

    I see the current flurry of lawsuits as just chancers seeing their opportunity to get a piece of Google's action. Nothing will change until we understand the economy that's underpinning the Web and make a conscious choice to move away from it.

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