David Bailey

The Internet is a Scary Place

Scary Shirt
Scary Shirt

In honor of Halloween, here is a scary article. Well, maybe only the first half is scary.

Google is the New Microsoft. You have to use them. Microsoft Office used to be the default business app; now, it's Google Search. Everyone's afraid of them. If you're a startup and Google moves into your space, your company is done. They say scary things: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." This was said by Google CEO Eric Schmidt in 2009. Here's a great response to this statement by Bruce Schneier, a computer security specialist.

I'd bet that within 10 searches at a new computer, Google can identify who you are. Even if you don't ever log in or have an account, they probably have some algorithm to identify people across the world. Ever searched for your address when getting directions? Ever looked at your house on google maps? What about Googling yourself? Maybe they just know you as someone who likes to search for BBQ places in Los Angeles. Or maybe they saw that you searched for the same restaurant on both your home and work computers the same day. Google can probably put all this together and use it to track everything you do with their services.

Going further, it's not just search. Google maps has a record of everywhere you've been or want to go. Google Ads can track you across many of the sites on the Internet. Gmail keeps track of everyone you know, how they interact with you and what they know about you. YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, Groups, Health and dozens of other Google sites can constantly collect information about you. Google mobile tracks your location when you search for nearby places. Google's Chrome records every keystroke you type in the bar at the top, and maybe every page you visit. Chrome OS would be able to track everything you do with your computer. Android could do the same with your mobile phone. With or without an account, Google can find you on the Internet.

Maybe I should just live in the woods.

It's safe to say that Google knows more about you than anyone single person on Earth. Now, reread that quote by CEO Eric Schmidt and tell me if you're scared.: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Maybe I'm just crazy.

For more of this conversation, read this New York Times article about advertising and privacy.

Now onto some lighter thoughts. All the best college grads wanted to work for Microsoft in the 90s, Google in the 2000s, and now it seems like Facebook is the new kid in town, along with other startups like Digg and Reddit.

Facebook is strange because, like Google, it makes most of its money from ads. It is still hard for me to believe that multi-billion dollar companies run on little 2-inch squares on the sides of websites. Facebook, also like Google, appears to care more about pushing their own technology agenda than its users' privacy. It seems that ever since the site broke out of the college market, Facebook has been upsetting users by creating products that, by default, decrease privacy. While a select few have stopped using Facebook, it seems that most put up with the service because they need it to stay 'connected' with their friends.

Microsoft is the new open source champion. Their .NET environment is open sourced in the mono project, and MS has gone so far as to create a "Community Promise" that they will not sue anyone for patient infringement involving mono. They also no longer have a monopoly on web browsers because of Firefox and Chrome (and Safari and Opera). Their search engine remains in the third place position (although I do like their maps and flights features). It would seem as if MS cares more about its Xbox and SYNC product lines, than it's computer software or Internet properties.

Happy Halloween!

Microsoft is more like an old guy now. Think News Corp, Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner, etc. These companies don't really have a handle on a young industry that is moving fast. They're worried their businesses might soon disappear so they buy a startup here or there. But more often than not, they buy an AOL (Time Warner) or a MySpace (News Corp) that is on the way down.

What about Apple? Apple is off in their own world pretending like they're not paying attention to what's going on. They ignore their hardware compeditors (Dell, HP, Lenovo) by pricing their products a couple hundered dollars higher. Their phones only run on AT&T but that doesn't bother them. Their iPods took command of the music player market years ago. The iTunes Store competes with Amazon, but not really. Apple people are just that, Apple people. (Some use the word fanboys.) They often use the services of the other companies mentioned here, but they usually go for the Apple product if it exists.

Apple is always trying to drive Mac sales. That's why they created the iPod, iPhone and iPad. These devices were all made to lure customers into the Mac world. However, it just so happened that these devices dominate their respective markets. Good for Apple.

Other weird things: Oracle's purchase of Sun kinda sounds like eBay's acquisition of Skype a few years back. "What's a database company going to do with Java?" is a lot like "what's an auction web site going to do with Internet communications?" Amazon has an interesting position with S3 and AWS as they could soon be (or already are) running much of the Internet.

That's all for now. Happy Halloween!


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