Open I.D. or Snoops R Us

Google related programing as well as javascript are storing everything that you do on your computer on cookies written into the programs and then dumping the info into their databases every time you log on. The cookies have no expiration date. Many don’t show up in basic cookie sweeps nor are they erased by them. Some code is so good that even sophisticated sweeping can’t find it; most is so integral to how the program works that blocking it means you cannot use the programs. Recently, records have been subpoenaed by the Federal Government. More recently, employees of various companies that keep/have access to similar databases have been snooping. Offenses ranged from looking at ex-partners documents to those of presidential candidates.

Now, there is Open I.D.

Ask your self these questions:

  • What positive purpose can a program that tracks everything you do for some one else and stores that information indefinitely somewhere you have no access to serve?
  • how are we served by having various pieces of our information linked throughout the internet without our consent nor knowledge on the basis of computers we use?
  • What safe guards are in place in invasive info gathering software to protect you against unwanted marketing?
  • What safe guards are in place to protect you from sanction if someone in your household or someone whose computer you have used are engaged in activities that you are not?
  • What are the consequences of having people who have proven to be untrustworthy in the employ of places that are keeping track of the electronic minutiae of your life?
  • How are people prone to predatory behavior aided by programs that mandate that your name/location and or other private information be given in order for you to leave comments on their websites?

The result of Open Source and Google tracking can be amusing and frightening. Let me give you some examples from my own life over the past 8 months:

  • Suddenly, everywhere you go, you are being told that you should meet up with/hook up with a gay man who likes the same movies, music, and possibly books you do. – do you really need google (and other info gathering programs) to be your own creepy version of match.com?
  • childish social network sites are inexplicably linked to you because of the tracking of other people in your household’s usage making people wary of you because the server has your name not theirs.
  • your google searches start prioritizing people, images, and places that have nothing to do with you but with others using your computer; image searches now take hours to find basic things because you are bombarded with images the computer has decided are more suited to your tastes based on other’s usage.
  • A friend suddenly finds her work maligned from usually amenable sources, certain segments of the discipline with whom she has never worked and just met treat her rudely or with open hostility, and job offers are compromised, only to be told finally it is because her google based blogger account is listing her as the author of my blog b/c I used her computer while visiting this summer. (And this my friends is why tenure is essential to academic freedom.)

In all of these cases, inaccurate tracking information led to both minor and major inconveniences. In none of these cases has the information been helpful nor accurate.

While radical librarians around N. America stood up to the government’s request for user information, both Google and phone companies aided the government in violating our constitutional rights. While many complained about phone tapping, no one seems to notice nor protest the same behavior on the internet.

Regardless of what you use your computer for, you should be deeply concerned about the lengths Google is going to in order to track it. McCarthy may be dead and it may not be 1984, but there is definitely something terribly wrong here.

10 thoughts on “Open I.D. or Snoops R Us

  1. Completely OT: Kiita says you’ve got a post on tenure and I’m not finding it. … Would say more on other great posts but I am supposed to be writing class notes … !

  2. yep. I would tell kiita that: 1. My post was not on tenure but on the woc conference and written in response to several recurring questions raised there and 2. I took it down because the youtube videos of the conference that were the bulk of the post have since been deleted by the youtube poster, BUT she has open source and I refuse to willingly give google/blogger anymore information about me than it already has especially in light of what it did to a friend of mine explained above . . .PS. I do have some minor, childish, thoughts on tenure actually related to the “tenure meme” under the “myopic” section of my “The Return of The Quickies – Let’s Get it On” from Monday.

  3. I’m confused by your use of the term Open Source here. To be sure, Google develops and uses Open Source software, but Open Source simply means that the source code for a program is “open,” or in other words, any one is free to modify and contribute to the source code for their own purposes and redistribute it as long as they grant others the same right. That’s a tad simplistic definition, but that’s the gist of it. The Open Source movement (at least to my knowledge) is in no way tied to any unethical Google practices. Open Source programming was around long before Google showed up. In fact, WordPress is an Open Source program too. I do think that your concerns are valid, though, with regards to Google. I’m just a big Open Source advocate (Linux user, etc.) and I hate to see the Open Source movement tarnished because a company uses our principles for unsavory means. Oh, and this is my first comment here, I think. Gotta say I love your blog.

  4. hi Kevin welcome to the blog (love your’s too). I’m not actually talking about that open source which I am a fan of myself; I am talking about the new comment program “Open Source” which is part of google inspired snoopware. it comes with blogger.

  5. Ah, that makes sense. I didn’t know about that. Now I’m annoyed that they actually named a program open source. For the longest time I resisted my inclination to believe that Google really isn’t our friend. I find it harder to do so these days, though. Part of me also wonders, however, if it’s all the nature of the internet beast. You can leave a comment under a pseudonym and leave a fake email address, for instance, but unless you’re behind a proxy, the blog owner can still tell where you’re leaving the comment from by your ip address; and there are ways to get around proxies anyway. Too many times have I seen someone with a vendetta, too much time on their hands, and rudimentary deduction skills threaten to “out” someone. It’s tricky water to navigate, I feel. There was a period when I was getting attacked on my blog and had all of these people leaving the vilest, racist comments imaginable. I was glad to be able to block their ip addresses; but on the other hand I feel as if companies like Google are taking things way too far.

  6. yep Kevin, I have written a lot about the different pieces you point to here. Having IP addresses is very important to mediating abuse either through blocking software or other means when warranted. Nothing is really private on the internet . . . But, I do think it is important to note when programs are designed to monitor you for reasons that cannot be explained or when software requires you to sign off on their info gathering and unspecified dissemination in order to use it. The most insidious to me is the google and javascript packages that don’t work if you remove or block the cookies. The code is so entrenched it is designed not to be detected and it doesn’t wipe easy. Even the stuff we should all know about like google tool bar are more deceptive than they look, even when you shut off the tracking option (which they allow for in preferences) it still drops a cookie and tracks your usage for the entire time you are online, it just doesn’t store the information for next time. Where does that info go?To me it is less about what you use your computer for than it is about privacy. Maybe I read Brave New World, 1984, and a series of fascist leaders (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin) master plans too early in life but I think what Noemi Wolf recently said about us living in pre-fascist/fascist times is spot on. The difference now is that we willing give our information over to talk to each other. It’s like the Myspace poem I posted a while back. And it scares me that people don’t know about the things that are overt like wiki pages that make IP addresses and page changes available to every user or side bar ads that track your preferences even if you don’t click on them.And you are also right that wordpress is open source in a good way. I really love my wordpress blog. But it is among the programs that you can use this software I was rallying against with and that makes me wary. It is like the invisible tracking cookie on wordpress blogs (we all see the smilie icon don’t we?), that software tracks all kind of information that wordpress then compresses and gives to users in the most chopped up form. Where is the rest of that information going? This new twist has definitely left me wondering if it is time to move the blog, and that is saying something.Obviously, I don’t much care if the world knows what I think about race, class, sexuality, gender, etc. but I don’t like being spied on without my permission or being forced to give it. I’ve got military and high government branches that stop by this blog once and a while just to snoop and they don’t bother me nearly as much as this software does. I may think it is stupid NSA trolls my blog once a year, but I expect them to be both dubious and ignorant. But again, part of that is having read too many declassified FBI and CIA files on social movements no doubt.

  7. Kevin your suspicions were right. I was just on another blogger blog and saw that my addled brain conflated “open source” which we agree is a good thing and “open I.D.” which is invasive bunk. Thanks for flagging it even if it took me a while . . .I’ve fixed it.

  8. Ha! You know what’s funny. I Just saw open i.d. on someone’s blog and thought to myself, “so what the hell is this nonsense all about”? Now I know. I hear you and your concerns. In fact, I just took Google ads off of my site, partly because of what you’re arguing here, but the final straw was seeing a banner ad for John McCain on my site one day. I won’t lie, the extra money for the web hosting and all is nice for a poor grad student (even if it’s not much), but I’m not willing to go selling my soul or anything. And to add, I’m wary of this trend to move all of your work online (Google Docs, Calendar, etc.). I can’t see why anyone would want to store so much information (I imagine sometimes sensitive) on a public, crackable, server–especially the folks that use one password for everything. Seems to me like they’re just asking for trouble. And that’s before we start talking about the potential for abuse from official agencies.

  9. yeah a John McCain ad would do it for me too if the cookies hadn’t already done it. Not only is google encouraging you to put all your stuff online as you note, I just found out that google-analytics and facebook are tied into the code for blockbuster’s video by mail software. If you use it, log in with a mac and watch the bottom of your screen. you’ll be surprised at the number of times it stops to give data to google or to contact facebook.com Why is it doing that?I’m telling you, paper and pencil are a beautiful thing . . .

  10. AAAAHHHHH!!! Guess who keeps track of those stats that wordpress keeps/chops up to pass out tidbits to its users? GOOGLE -analytics!!!! Time to move the blog.

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