September 12, 2006

And Google has crossed the line

     Google said something that is beyond belief. They have decided that the best way to get more advertising info is by eavesdropping. Anyone with a Google application on their computer can look forward to having their microphone randomly activated at any time to grab sound clips and ship the information back to Google, allowing for more targeted ads.


If I am not the first, allow me to say: what the fuck.

     Google was little more then a lingering threat when I last discussed it: it was only threatening to those of us paranoid to extrapolate out to an outrageous degree. But now it's in-your-face "we don't give a fuck about privacy." Sure, it's a neat concept to grab random clips of audio, filter out background noise, and then identify what ad would best suit that blurb, but it's threatening for anyone who isn't doing a final project in college. I will publicly announce right here: I will no longer have any type of Google software installed on any of my computers. The only thing I had before this was Google talk, but this is just plain sinister. The government would only need to grab the company and instantly we would have big brother on our hands, and I'm not willing to see it happen. I'm taking a stand against google. Albeit a small one, but I'm slowly going to work Google out of everything that I do.
     I have no doubt that Google will either retract its statement or try and play up the fact that it is totally irreversible and the sound files never make it to Google, but I don't care. This is a step above and beyond what any advertiser should ever be allowed to take. This is fucking SPYING. They could catch you having sex and use it to sell you condoms, or listening to porn to sell you porn and penis enlargement pills. They could hear you watching Smallville and offer you the DVDs. They could hear you listening to a copy of your favorite music and offer you more CDs. Or they could hear you say the word "bomb" and burst into your house in the middle of the night and arrest you. They could hear you say "free copy of windows" and contact Microsoft on your behalf as a computer to "watch." Starting to see a problem? Even if it started out being benign, the effectiveness may provoke longer clips, and higher quality ones. It stops being possible to have the home user's computer handle the strain of filtering out sounds and making a graph, so it starts being transmitted back raw to Google. And one day, in court, a recording of you will be pulled from Google's massive databases of information along with search logs, chat records, and emails leaving you completely exposed. Things pulled out of context twisted against you. But what can you do? Your whole life is on Google.

I, for one, won't be this person.

Extra info in the extended entry.

     The first thing that came out of our mouths when we heard that Google is working on a system that listens to what's on your TV playing in the background, and then serves you relevant adverts, was "that's cool, but dangerous".
     The idea appeared in Technology Review citing Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, who says these ideas will show up eventually in real Google products - sooner rather than later.
     The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether that's adverts or search results, or a chat room on the subject.
     And, of course, we wouldn’t put it past Google to store that information away, along with the search terms it keeps that you've used, and the web pages you have visited, to help it create a personalised profile that feeds you just the right kind of adverts/content. And given that it is trying to develop alternative approaches to TV advertising, it could go the extra step and help send "content relevant" advertising to your TV as well.
     We suspect that such a world would be rather eerie, with a constant feeling of déjà vu every time anyone watched TV.
     Technology Review said Google talked about this software in Europe last June, and that it breaks sound into a five-second snippets to pick out audio from a TV, reducing the snippet to a digital "fingerprint", which it matches on an internet server.
     Given the furore caused when AOL released searches on the internet, there might be more than a few civil liberties activists less than happy for Google to put this idea into practice. Also, given that Google provides the software link between its search software and the microphone, it's a small step to making the same link to any webcams attached to the PC.
     Pretty soon the security industry is going to find a way to hijack the Google feed and use it for full on espionage.
     Google says that its fingerprinting technology makes it impossible for the company (or anyone else) to eavesdrop on other sounds in the room, such as personal conversations, because the conversion to a fingerprint is made on the PC, and a fingerprint can't be reversed, as it's only an identity.
     But we should think that "spyware" might take on an extra meaning if someone less scrupulous decided on a similar piece of software.
     The Google program converts sound into graphs, weeds out background noise, and reduces the graphs to key features that can then be translated into just four bytes of information, so that the fingerprints for an entire year of television programming would add up to no more than a few gigabytes, the company said.
     Meanwhile, in an unconnected announcement this week, Google said it has signed a multi-year agreement with online auction giant eBay, to provide text-based advertising outside the US.
     The companies also plan to launch a "click-to-call" advertising function on eBay using Skype and Google Talk.

     Copyright © 2006, Faultline
Article taken from here

Posted by Kickmyassman at September 12, 2006 12:53 AM

WHOA. thank you for scaring me this time. hhho shit! hell, i don't even care if it only does exactly what it says it does, it's still extrreemely creepy if you're watching tv/online and the damn ads start reflecting that. it's just a disturbing idea. why would you even need it? if it's a commercial that's on tv, you certainly don't want another ad on your computer. if it's a show, besides just creeping me out, if i wanted to buy dvds or whatever else they advertise badly enough to buy it from an online ad, i probably would've gotten it off amazon or something already, or be planning and perfectly aware. i mean, i guess there are some instances where it might be sort of useful, do they really think it will be that profitable?

you know how when you do citations for papers, even leaving one out is considered plagerism, regardless of intent? (i know they slackened that rule this year, but it's still considered plagerism) well, isn't this kind of similar? "i don't care why you're recording audio of me and for how long, you're still spying". uhmmm yeah.

personally, i don't keep a microphone on when i'm not working on music, so as far as my own life goes i don't care. but i'll keep an eye on this, it's damn creepy.

Posted by: suzi at September 12, 2006 09:44 AM

The fact of the matter is, even if google does release software like this, it's always going to be up to the user to install it. I agree that Google has crossed the line here but it's kinda moot if nobody buys the software or uses the tools, right? There are almost always preventative measures to be taken against this kind of thing. I'm more worried about the spyware implications of this, and the author of the article, at least in small part, seems to agree. But again, there WILL be a giant backlash against this software if and when it does get released. Still, although Google is definitely infringing greatly on civil liberties here, how consequential will it be if people like you and me just keep our microphones unplugged or off when we're not using them, or simply just not buy the software and run frequent virus scans?

Posted by: Sam at September 15, 2006 11:49 PM

     This isn't new software Sam. This is a "feature" that is going to be implemented in all Google applications. Google earth, Google talk, Google desktop, and Google toolbar. Certainly I didn't use any of these myself because I didn't need them, but it remains that if I go to someone's house and I don't know anything about their computer they may very well have Google desktop and a mic plugged in and I could be recorded in that fashion.
     No shit if they released an application called "we're spying on you" no one would buy it (or even download it for free). But this isn't about buying. This is about spying through well-established free applications already vital to many people. It's not really something you can be sure of not having unless you just don't use any Google anything.
     It's interesting that you mentioned civil liberties, because this would not, in fact, be an infringment upon any of them. By downloading anything on google you agree to a privacy policy that basically reads "We can use your information for anything we want anywhere and sell it for any amount of money because once you use our products we own you." Clearly it's much more subtle than that, but many websites (such as and have already made complaints that Google's policy is so lax that they could basically be doing anything and get away with it. This is just me saying that what they've done is above and beyond what's sensible.

     "There are almost always preventative measures to be taken against this kind of thing. I'm more worried about the spyware implications of this [...]"
     I already said why there aren't really preventative measures (mainly because you can't know how everyone's computer is configured). It just won't happen. Too many people rely on google to a ridiculous degree. I don't really understand what implications this has for spyware (if any). If spyware companies wanted to, they could have been doing this for years, and we probably wouldn't have known. The only thing that would be worrying was if Google was releasing the source for this software or the method of using the "fingerprint" once it reaches Google. All of this information (if kept hidden) will keep spyware largely the same as always.

Posted by: kit at September 16, 2006 04:20 AM

Ah. It's interesting, and I guess it makes sence that by downloading the update or whatever you would have to agree to some kind of license agreement that nobody usually reads, thereby letting google spy on you. I guess the main reason I'm not too fazed by this is that I've never relied heavily on google software, so this really may only affect me through my friends and family. And in addition, if google markets this "update" at all, I'm sure most, if not all of my friends would have an "OMG CREEPY" reaction like you and me, and simply get rid of google toolbar and trade in google talk for skype or something. My family is a different issue- I'll prolly have to warn them myself.

Posted by: Sam at September 16, 2006 10:11 AM
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