Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Google Public Policy Blog...with Comments!

I was reading The Caucus blog on the New York Times website this morning, and apparently YouTube's "redesign" has replaced user's picks with editor's choices, no doubt because of the flood of copyright infringement notices it receives every day. Editors have a much more discerning eye (we hope) for potential copyright infringement or potential lawsuits, so it only stands to reason that the glory of user-generated content would be muffled a bit by people paid to keep popular but illegal videos off the front page, as it were, and stash it somewhere in the back of the paper so people really have to dig for it. Given the short attention span of today, if it's not on page 2, it's of little interest.

Not surprising, really, as YouTube and Google have said they are working on filtering out copyrighted material. What better way to catch more of it than to remove the choice of the people?

Anyway, what caught my attention on the Google Blog while looking for some comment about YouTube's "redesign" was the Google Public Policy Blog. With articles in the news recently about immigration, and Google being a tech company it relies heavily on foreign workers, it doesn't surprise me Google has created such a blog. What surprises me is how long it took! Though, apparently, it was an internal blog and only recently went public.

The difference between the public policy blog and other Google blogs, however, is that the public policy blog allows comments. Comments! Interesting, don't you think? You can comment on Google's public policy. Not a hint of irony in that at all.

The blog touches on a range of issues you expect: immigration, censorship as a barrier to trade, the always popular debate on net neutrality and it's, how should I put this, unwillingness to support one candidate or party in this upcoming election. The Googleplex, as the blog makes readers know, has hosted both Mayor Bloomberg and potential Democratic candidate John Edwards. Sort of makes you think that Google will support a candidate, just before the election, who will make Google's policies law. Google's policies law, as in, for the USA.

Google and politics could turn out to be rather interesting. If you think about, big corporations always choose sides, and they always choose the side that best suits them. Little wonder that with a Republican president and, up until the this year, a Republican Congress, the broken up Bell companies are forming into one again. Mergers are occurring all over the place, giving big business back to the few.

Some see it as necessary against the onslaught of competition from abroad. Safety in numbers, as it were. Larger corporations have a better shot of staying competitive against overseas corporations than smaller ones, so it only makes sense to build up again. I believe the term for that is cycle.

At any rate, the Google Public Policy Blog ought to be very interesting, espousing the wisdom of Google and it tries to makes its public policy law. If it succeeds, I doubt those laws will stop at the US borders. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if international standards become more than a whisper, and other countries take Google's public policy at face value and adopt it as their own.

Hopefully people will stop and think, weigh the options, see if Google's policies will in fact be helpful rather than hurtful, but, well, that just might be asking too much now, don't you think? Why think for yourself when Google does the thinking for you?

Then again, with the comments enabled on the public policy blog, it gives the impression that people are still allowed to have independent thought. You don't agree with what has been posted, then, by all means, leave a comment. Google will take your comment into consideration and then figure out a way to spin the idea so that it sounds exactly like that you wanted to hear in the first place!

Maybe. Maybe not. Course, you can also think of Google's enabling of comments on its public policy blog as caving into its users who have clamored to comment on Google blogs but have been forced to do so in blogs like this one.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Of Camera Dectors and Cameras at Intersections

It is no secret, here in the city of Chicago, that the whole point of putting up cameras at "high risk" intersections to catch more people running red lights and breaking the law in order to write more tickets to meet whatever budget quota has been assigned to further stuff the pockets of politicians in this Windy City.

As a Chicago Tribune article today quotes Ald. Edward Burke (14th: "Revenue from the $90 fines at camera-guarded intersections "is budgeted in our annual appropriation ordinance," the alderman said. "That is why all these cameras are being installed. ... The reality is that people blow through these intersections and they are going to be caught and they are going to be fined. It has become a big revenue source, absolutely."

So it is of little surprise that he is in arms over a new device from Cobra Electronics that warns drivers of upcoming intersections that have cameras. Such a device has the potential to put a significant dent in the $19.8 million dollars collected in fines from drivers who run red lights.

Alderman Burke's insistence on a ban of such a device makes it clear that he is more interested in meeting a quota than actually helping to save the lives of his constituents. Never mind the cost to tax payers when accidents do happen, whether a fender bender or a fatality. Never mind people's blatant disregard for red lights and the cameras. As long as he gets hi $19.8 million plus, he's happy.

God for bid any piece of technology that would benefit drivers, pedestrians and cops prevent him from getting that $19.8 million plus.

And I keep expecting the next feature added to Google Maps to include the marking of intersections that have cameras. You can already add traffic, so why not include intersections with cameras as well?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Google Oogling...at You

I found this cartoon first on the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune and thought it was quite fitting. Went well with an editorial today from Steve Johnson called "Street View: The Creepy Side of Google." He says:
The transition for Google is now nearly complete.

The lovable Internet start-up with the "do-no-evil" motto and the cute, seasonably changeable logo has transformed into something more ominous.

Google is now keeper of our private search data, whether we want it to or not; chronicler of our hard drives, if we let it; exploiter of our newspapers; digitizer of every book it can get its hands on; and, now, photographer of our ordinary, on-street activities, from sunbathing to visiting a strip club.

It's this last, the recent arrival of the Street View feature as an enhancement of Google Maps and Google Earth, that has proved to be the tipping point, or, more accurately, demonstrated that a tipping point had already occurred.

Yes, Google's Street View seems to have made people rather uneasy. Since its launch, it has been covered extensively in the news and around the blogosphere. Seems we didn't have a problem with Google keeping our search history (and we already know it won't be turned over to the government. Google will fight such a request first, providing time to cover our tracks, so to speak), searching our hard drives for information we know is there we just can't remember where we put it, and why bother hopping from one news website to another when there is Google News that presents it all at once?

But being able to see ourselves on the street, through our apartment or office window, is unexpected. The novelty is quickly wearing off. But Mr. Johnson does make a valid point: "surveillance cameras blinking from above intersections and camera phones in many pockets" is making privacy non-existent. The next thing to expect is for law enforcement to use Street View in conjunction with its surveillance cameras, perhaps to strengthen a case going to court. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, now is it?

There will be little any of us will be able to do that won't be captured and posted on the Internet for the world to see, whether we like it or not. But just think, if Kevin Bankston, a privacy lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, can be caught smoking, it makes you wonder who else you might be able to spot, whether it be Googlers, the founding members of Google or anyone else you've wondered about...oh wait....right....that information has probably been filtered out already. Silly me. I forgot. Google only wants to invade everyone else's privacy under the guise of "helpfulness in navigation," not their own. My bad.

Mr. Johnson closes by asking:
Whether Google ends up doing that will serve as a pretty good test for which Google it wants to be. Rich, but still, to the best of its abilities, a good neighbor? Or the kind of rich it's verging on already, the rich that forgets how it got all that money in the first place?

It stands to reason, considering most large corporations forget, that Google will continue down the path of the rich that forgets how it got all the money in the first place. But it's so good at keeping us all occupied with that right hand of righteousness, we'll feed the machine without giving it a second thought.

Really, what business today can survive without Google? Just like few that sell retail items can survive without the business it receives from Wal-Mart.

Somewhere, someone is paying close attention to signs of fractures in Google, just as someone, somewhere, was paying attention to fractures in Wal-Mart. After all, nothing lasts forever.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Google Story: Google's Secrect Open to the Public

Google has many blogs run by its many fractured departments, and one of them is the Google Research Blog. Not kept updated nearly as often as the Google Blog, but it presented me with this rather interesting post on videos.

One of them is about "The Google Story", a book written by David Vise and Mark Malseed and published in August of 2006. I read in December of 2006. He was invited to Google to speak about the book and his reasons for writing it.

What struck me as funny, however, was at the beginning with Eric Schmidt is introducing him and saying the book is a "best seller." I couldn't help but laugh, and I'm willing to bet Mr. Schmidt said it with a good deal of sarcasm. The book is practically invisible on any bookshelf, which is a shame. It appears, however, more than John Battelle's equally interesting book "The Search: How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture".

"The Google Story" is most likely going to be the only definitive inside look at Google. Mr. Vise is correct when he states the "Google knows more about you than you know about Google" and though his efforts to bridge that gap should be applauded, it still falls short when you measure the information in the book against the amount of information that Google collects on just a daily basis. He, like the rest of us (myself included to some extent), has been enamored of Google, and his book exudes praise that no doubt anger privacy advocates. It is not until you put his book together with Mr. Battelle's that you begin to see the bigger picture, all the pieces coming more into focus. Search is on track to fulfill the predictions made by Mr. Battelle, and Google is leading the way as Mr. Vise discusses.

It strikes me as odd that a company that receives so much publicity, both good and bad, has a book out on it that has not climbed as high up the Amazon ladder as one might expect, or even appear on the bookshelf in any prominent fashion. Sort of makes you wonder if Google has had a hand in this, not publicizing the book and not necessarily making it invisible either. I have argued more than once that Google wants to make all the world's information free to the public, except its own.

"The Google Story" seems to fly in the face of that argument, in a sense, as a great of information about the company is presented that you don't find anywhere else. The book is perhaps one of Google's best kept secrets that is open to the public.

So why haven't you read it yet?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Street Level -- Online Courtesy of Google Earth

Amazing what happens when you don't interact with the Internet for an entire day. I checked the news this morning, and low and behold, Google has created more controversy with its new StreetView feature in Google Maps.

The New York Times ran an article about a woman who saw her cat sitting in the windowsill of her apartment. The Lede chimes in with a host of things you can see using the new service.

The mention of seeing license plates got me thinking. If you can see the street view of anything, or almost anything, then what can you gleam from the Googleplex itself? License plates of the vehicles parked nearest the street? License plates of cars parked in front of the building? What companies make deliveries? Construction? Maybe, even, a glimpse of Googlers doing any of the things the company toutes so much on its website? Perhaps one of founders in the flesh?

And, no doubt, the papparazzi will take note of this new feature, and use it to help them spot celebrities, or catch people in the act of something that may or may not be what it seems.

Really. How ironic would it be to catch a senior member of Google in a questionable act using its own technology? And if not, then one has to question if Google is keeping itself off limits, removing or controlling information of itself in all areas of the Web.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Google is all about making the world's information free, as long as the world's information does not include Google. And when the world is so enamored of a company, it can do no wrong.

I keep waiting for Congress to enact the "Google Laws" that will govern the Internet.