Archive for the ‘Cloud Computing’ Category
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While Google has become associated with computing and the Internet in general, it attracts more grumbling and raised eyebrows than other heavyweights, such as Microsoft.
Even though Google’s recent pullout from China has highlighted its commitment to user privacy, it did little to assuage the doubt of netizens that the pullout from China was a result of cyber attacks on Google infrastructure. And were it not for them, Google would happily continue to participate in the censorship demands of the Chinese government. A notorious case of such “accommodation” towards the Chinese government was the 2006 “banning” of spacewar.com from its global search engine. Spacewar.com was reporting on China’s geopolitical and military affairs.
The following is a collection of five cases that highlight instances where Google’s commitment to “not being evil” has been questioned by netizens. And answers have generally not been forthcoming on Google’s part. Of course, this is not a general rundown of why you should avoid Google. Its more of a mixed bag of cases that I have come across over the years.
The Privacy International Report
Individual instances of Google’s creep factor are too numerous to enumerate. You can fill your hands by searching at Gawker using the “yourprivacyisanillusion” tag.
The situation can be best summarized by the findings of Privacy International. In June 2007, Privacy International (PI), a privacy advocacy group, released a privacy ranking of Internet service companies. The report compared companies such as Amazon, AOL, Apple, BBC, Bebo, eBay, Facebook, Friendster, Google, Hi5, Last.fm, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Microsoft, Myspace, Orkut, Reunion.com, Skype, Wikipedia, Windows Live Space, Xanga, Yahoo! and YouTube.
Google was the only company to receive the worst ranking (Black; Hostile to Privacy). In their 2007 consultation report, PI justified their ranking citing the following specifics:
In summary, Google’s specific privacy failures include, but are by no means limited to:
- Google account holders that regularly use even a few of Google’s services must accept that the company retains a large quantity of information about that user, often for an unstated or indefinite length of time, without clear limitation on subsequent use or disclosure, and without an opportunity to delete or withdraw personal data even if the user wishes to terminate the service.
- Google maintains records of all search strings and the associated IP-addresses and time stamps for at least 18 to 24 months and does not provide users with an expungement option. While it is true that many US based companies have not yet established a time frame for retention, there is a prevailing view amongst privacy experts that 18 to 24 months is unacceptable, and possibly unlawful in many parts of the world.
- Google has access to additional personal information, including hobbies, employment, address, and phone number, contained within user profiles in Orkut. Google often maintains these records even after a user has deleted his profile or removed information from Orkut.
- Google collects all search results entered through Google Toolbar and identifies all Google Toolbar users with a unique cookie that allows Google to track the user’s web movement. Google does not indicate how long the information collected through Google Toolbar is retained, nor does it offer users a data expungement option in connection with the service.
- Google fails to follow generally accepted privacy practices such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines and elements of EU data protection law. As detailed in the EPIC complaint, Google also fails to adopted additional privacy provisions with respect to specific Google services.
- Google logs search queries in a manner that makes them personally identifiable but fails to provide users with the ability to edit or otherwise expunge records of their previous searches.
- Google fails to give users access to log information generated through their interaction with Google Maps, Google Video, Google Talk, Google Reader, Blogger and other services.
PI claimed that a Google representative (or representatives) was alleging a conflict of interest between PI and Microsoft (Microsoft scored an orange in the same report). According to PI, the supposed conflict of interest revolved around one member out of the seventy members that make up PI’s Advisory Board being a Microsoft employee. PI stated that the said member had resigned from the Advisory Board immediately after taking a job at Microsoft. In a second letter, PI claimed that Google had briefed the media across the UK about another Microsoft conspiracy! To quote,
In this new allegation you assert that Microsoft pays for Privacy International’s silence about potentially negative aspects of its products by tipping money into 80/20 Thinking Ltd, which has two Privacy International staff as Directors. You allege that Burston Marsteller, which has been retained by Microsoft, in some way facilitates this relationship because it is a strategic partner of 80/20 Thinking. In this bizarre conspiracy you allege that the world’s most prominent privacy advocates, the world’s biggest software developer and the world’s leading PR company have entered into a secret pact to discredit Google.
Such denial, “blame Microsoft/Russians/Terrorists” attitude and hostility towards scrutiny is more characteristic of Intelligence Agencies rather than publicly traded companies.
Allegations of links to the CIA
Robert David Steele, a former CIA operative claimed that CIA seed money helped launch Google. He further identified by name, Google’s “liaison” at the CIA. To quote,
“I think Google took money from the CIA when it was poor and it was starting up and unfortunately our system right now floods money into spying and other illegal and largely unethical activities, and it doesn’t fund what I call the open source world,” said Steele, citing “trusted individuals” as his sources for the claim.
“They’ve been together for quite a while,” added Steele.
Asked to impart to what level Google is “in bed” with the CIA, Steele described the bond as a “small but significant relationship,” adding, “it is by no means dominating Google in fact Google has been embarrassed because everything the CIA asked it to do they couldn’t do.”
If these revelations are true, they may be worrisome to not just “terrorists.” Lack of transparency allows the CIA to be used on some occasions, as a private army for the United Fruit Company those rich enough. And if a large and well endowed organization such as American Intelligence did indeed play a role in creating and fostering Google, then its founders may not be so deserving of the accolades heaped upon them. They may be just Lonelygirl15 cardboard cutouts meant for public consumption.
Regardless of the authenticity of these allegations, Google appears to have no issues when it comes to partnering with American Intelligence Agencies. Google acquired Keyhole Inc in 2004, which was partly funded by the CIA. Keyhole Inc. originally developed the software which is now known as Google Earth. The CIA received actual Google shares following the acquisition. In 2008, the NSA awarded Google a $2 million contract. When pressed for details by a journalist, the NSA only revealed that “NSA bought four Google search appliances, two-years replacement warranty on all of them, and 100 hours of consulting support.” A commercial satellite was launched in September 2008 to get high resolution imagery for Google Earth (The rockets had the Google logo on them). The $500 million satellite was partly funded by the Department of Defence.
Allegations of censorship of media related to the 9-11 Truth Movement
Allegations have been made by infowars.com that Google Video reset the viewership count of Terror Storm from around 500,000 to 0 to prevent the video from continuing to be on the first page and going viral. Google later admitted that the numbers had been reset by mistake. Although its not that easy to convince members of the 9-11 Truth Movement.
The Matthew Tanin Case
Prosecutors in the trial of Matthew Tanin, one of the two former Bear Stearns managers indicted for fraud in the collapse of hedge funds in 2007, managed to obtain a CD-ROM from Google, containing Tanin’s email messages from November 20th 2006 to August 12th 2007.
Mr. Tanin had closed his Gmail account, and he thought it was closed. Although Mr. Tanin may get little sympathy, what is troubling is that Google has a very perplexing definition of “closed.”
Do emails that you delete, accounts that you close and pictures that you remove using Google services really get deleted? Or do they continue to reside on Google’s servers? What if Google operated a funeral home? Would they secretly remove bodies after burial and store them in cryogenic freezers?
The temporary suspension of Sibel Edmonds Blogger account
Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator and a major 9-11 cover-up whistleblower was preparing to provide deposition before an American court on the involvement of American Intelligence with Al Qaeda in Central Asia. Around the first week of August 2009 (when the sensitivity of her claims intensified), Google suspended her blogger account, preventing her from posting updates about the deposition. Google claimed that their automatic spam detection technology had labelled her blog as a “potential spam blog.” Her blogging privileges were restated a few days later. But she has chosen to create her own blog than stay with Google.
Being a whistleblower, Edmonds claims that
A few weeks ago I started receiving ‘Google & Blogger warnings’ from my technologically savvy friends and well-wishers, who encouraged me to have a mirror site as a back up and or cease using Google’s Blogger all together. I did take these warnings seriously and started looking at alternatives and other options.Loading ...
If you haven’t jumped into the Cloud Computing bandwagon yet, here are ten reasons why you should reconsider.
Cloud Computing makes your IT excessively dependent on the Internet
Cloud Computing exists on the premise that the Internet will always be as robust and reliable for all time to come. While one can be fairly optimistic, there is always the danger of the unforeseen. For example, Congressmen in the United States are pushing for bills that can shutdown/limit Internet traffic in the event of war, so that the sheeple stick to their prescribed content on television. Another country, Syria, managed to completely erase itself from the Internet when civil war broke out in late 2012. If a Company loses Internet connectivity to its Cloud even for a few days, as a result of an Internet outage affecting either it or the Cloud Computing Service, there could be very damaging consequences. I am not talking about your E-store going offline. Suppose the daily activities of your Company were on a database on a Cloud? In such a scenario, you may wish your servers were in that makeshift bunker in your backyard, rather than on the Cloud.
And because of its dependence on the Internet, Cloud Computing can never perform as a substitute for in-house servers. For example, there are speed limits, related to hardware and bandwidth, when transferring data to and from the Cloud via the Internet. Using VPNs and SSL tunnels can further slow the speed.
Cloud Computing will attract clients mainly from Western markets
Cloud Computing implicitly assumes that the Internet is as robust throughout the world as it is in North America, Europe and some parts of Asia. But clients from countries where Internet connectivity is sporadic will be discouraged from boarding the Cloud. And no, I am not talking about Namibia. IT powerhouse India still has sporadic Internet connectivity. The general speed of the Internet is still very poor. The infrastructure is so haphazard that most Indian Internet subscribers prefer the limited speeds of wireless mobile Internet from the cell phone companies, rather than trust the cable/landline infrastructure. In addition, uninterrupted supply of electricity is still unrealised in India. A power outage affecting any intermediary can cripple access to the Cloud. Indian IT giants have learnt the hard way not to trust state infrastructure, even for electricity. They keep their own backup power generation on site. Adopting any trend that makes them more dependent on state infrastructure will require more than a leap of faith.
Cloud Computing makes you dependent on the goodwill of your ISP
Cloud Computing may require gratuitous bandwidth for the client, depending on what the client is hosting on the Cloud. And the same ISPs who are clamouring for bandwidth caps may charge and arm and a leg if the client exceeds his or her bandwidth quota.
Cloud Computing can expose you to the unethical practices of your ISP
Major ISPs have come under fire for spying on their customer’s P2P networks on behalf of the Recording Industry. Can these ISPs be trusted with sensitive traffic to and from the Cloud? We are told that everything will be encrypted through VPNs. But still, given the tainted role of ISPs, can ISPs be trusted for non-encrypted traffic?
Cloud Computing is against the spirit of Personal Computing
Personal Computers were meant to empower individuals, make them more independent and productive. Most of today’s industry heavyweights owe their success to living up to these expectations. Microsoft and IBM’s unexpected touting of Cloud Computing is more akin to Toyota adopting the business model of a car rental agency (If that were to happen, Toyota may likewise rebrand itself in the fashion of Silicon Valley, as a subscription based Transport Service Provider).
It is no surprise that old timers, such as Steve Wozniak who have been at the forefront of the development of personal computing, have publicly voiced their concerns over Cloud Computing.
Cloud Computing makes your Cloud Data subject to American law
Since most of the major Cloud Computing servers are operated by companies based in the United States, data you put on your Cloud is subject to American law. And the American law in turn, is subject to overrides, loopholes, “Patriot Acts,” and exceptions, depending on which governmental agency (or which person/interest) wants your data. You may not even be informed that your data was compromised for the same reason Jack Bauer gets away with torturing his hostages/prisoners (national security). And even if there is no “national security” issue, Cloud data no longer needs a warrant to be obtained by the authorities. To quote,
Documents, Photos, and Other Stuff Stored Online
How They Get It:
Authorities typically need only a subpoena to get data from Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and other services that allow users to store data on their servers, or “in the cloud,” as it’s known.
What the Law Says:
The law treats cloud data the same as draft emails — authorities don’t need a warrant to get it. But files that you’ve shared with others — say, a collaboration using Google Docs — might require a warrant under the ECPA if it’s considered “communication” rather than stored data. “That’s a very hard rule to apply,” says Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy & Technology. “It actually makes no sense for the way we communicate today.”
And before reaching the Cloud, your data will pass through American ISPs that provide the Cloud with uptime. It could be intercepted by State Agencies even before it reaches the Cloud.
A case point is that of Amazon Web Services, a flagship of the cloud computing model. Amazon Web Services quietly booted whistleblowing website Wikileaks off their cloud computing servers. This was done without any court order. Looks like Amazon Web Services is also a flagship of the American government. In another piece of news, Amazon has won a $600 million contract to build a Cloud Computing System for the CIA.
Most American businesses with a shred of integrity in this regard have already closed doors, and therefore those that remain in business should be considered suspect. Take the case of Lavabit, a highly secure (and free) POP/IMAP/Webmail email service. This service was used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. On 8th August 2013, Lavabit users were greeted with the following message:
My Fellow Users,
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC
Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.
Or take the case of Cryptoseal Privacy, a VPN service which suddenly shuttered leaving perplexed users with the following message:
With immediate effect as of this notice, CryptoSeal Privacy, our consumer VPN service, is terminated. All cryptographic keys used in the operation of the service have been zerofilled, and while no logs were produced (by design) during operation of the service, all records created incidental to the operation of the service have been deleted to the best of our ability. Essentially, the service was created and operated under a certain understanding of current US law, and that understanding may not currently be valid. As we are a US company and comply fully with US law, but wish to protect the privacy of our users, it is impossible for us to continue offering the CryptoSeal Privacy consumer VPN product.
In other words, if your service provider is based in America and hasn’t already shuttered over ethical concerns, chances are that it is sharing your data with the NSA.
Cloud Computing can expose your Confidential Data to “Corrupt Elements” (and no, I am not talking about hackers and identity thieves)
Since corruption in Western society is more of an invitation-only club, most people refer to it only in couched terms. But unless you are really naive, it is a reality you must be prepared to deal with. Back in 2004, a Utah guy got an application for a major credit card. The problem was that the name and address on the application had only been provided to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The bad news is not that American State Agencies have backdoor access to American corporations. Rather, American corporations have an incestuous relationship with American State Agencies. If suppose you are a non-American corporation with your Cloud hosted by an American corporation, and your main competitor is an American heavyweight with backdoor access to the State Agencies, your confidential data on the Cloud may be just a few phone calls away. American corporations are known to use the State Agencies as personal armies, although very little of this gets documented. Worse, if the CEO of the Company that hosts your Cloud and the CEO of your competitor belong to the same fraternity, your confidential data on the cloud may be just a handshake away. Of course, your data on the Cloud is encrypted and cannot be accessed by anyone other than yourself. But then, there are always exceptions.
Amazon Web Services is considered to be a flagship of the Cloud Computing model. In July 2009, Amazon.com sneakily deleted etexts off its users Kindles. Ironically, the extexts deleted were George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. Both these books deal with the suppression of dissent by totalitarian regimes. The furore that followed the move was attributed to the fact that Amazon.com had remotely deleted files that were on the user’s own device, and therefore the move was like a hacker-style intrusion. But if suppose the Kindle followed the Cloud Computing model, where ebooks were read and stored online instead of the device itself, Amazon.com would probably never get caught. And the unavailablity of these titles could be attributed to an innocuous server outage.
In April 2010, China hijacked the Internet for 18 minutes by “tricking” other telecom routers. Nearly 15% of all American civilian and military Internet traffic was quietly redirected into Chinese networks before being rerouted without delay. If your cloud data transfers were included in this traffic, there is a possibility that it is being dissected somewhere in Beijing. Regular users of cloud computing should be warned that their data transfers can fall into the hand of whichever nation that goes on a bandwidth sucking rampage.
Cloud Computing is sounding more like a Lobby than a Trend
Suddenly, all ringers, gurus, and experts are clamouring for Cloud Computing. Articles are appearing in respectable publications weighing the pros and cons. Business heads are flaunting how they managed to cut costs. Does this remind you of Big Tobacco, Big Sugar, Big Science and Big Pharma? Do you buy into the pitch? Are you willing to “invest” your data in the scheme?
Cloud Computing may be of little consequence for the Average Small Business
The May 2009 issue of WIRED carried an interesting article on Cloud Computing, highlighting pros and cons. The key example cited in favour of Cloud Computing was an Eli Lily information consultant, who as a client of Amazon Web Services uses his iPhone to run “genomic analysis” on the Cloud. How many businesses executives can picture themselves doing this?
Cloud Computing may not contribute to your national economy
When you buy the hardware, software and technical expertise for setting up a server locally, you are supporting several local businesses. With Cloud Computing, you bypass all of these. But aren’t the major Cloud Computing providers American owned and American based? Yes they are. But when they get things figured out, they might consider outsourcing. And Cloud Computing is very feasible to outsource. Given their track record, they don’t exactly cherish employing Americans, unless Obama forces them to do so.
Update (An Eleventh Reason?): Cloud Computing may not be as reliable as touted.
To quote AP News 21/04/2011,
Major websites including Foursquare and Reddit crashed or suffered slowdowns Thursday after technical problems rattled Amazon.com’s widely used Web servers, frustrating millions of people who couldn’t access their favorite sites.
Though better known for selling books, DVDs and other consumer goods, Amazon also rents out space on huge computer servers that run many websites and other online services.
The problems began at an Amazon data center near Dulles Airport outside Washington and persisted into the afternoon. The failures were widespread, but they varied in severity.
HootSuite, which lets users monitor Twitter and other social networks more easily, was down completely, as was questions-and-answers site Quora.
The location-sharing social network Foursquare experienced glitches, while the news-sharing site Reddit was in “emergency read-only mode.”
Many other companies that use Amazon Web Services, like Netflix Inc. and Zynga Inc., which runs Facebook games, appeared to be unscathed. Amazon has at least one other major data center that stayed up, in California.
No one knew for sure how many people were inconvenienced, but the services affected are used by millions.
Amazon Web Services provide “cloud” or utility-style computing in which customers pay only for the computing power and storage they need, on remote computers.
Lydia Leong, an analyst for the tech research firm Gartner, said that judging by details posted on Amazon’s AWS status page, a network connection failed Thursday morning, triggering an automatic recovery mechanism that then also failed.
Amazon’s computers are divided into groups that are supposed to be independent of each other. If one group fails, others should stay up. And customers are encouraged to spread the computers they rent over several groups to ensure reliable service. But Thursday’s problem took out many groups simultaneously.
Update (a Twelfth reason?): Michael Chertoff Loves Cloud Computing
In 1999, an obscure conspiracy theorist, David Icke, made a startling claim. He stated that the ruling elite of the Western world were actually shape-shifting lizards. This theory became a laughing matter and was even used to smear genuine conspiracy theorists. But no matter how much time passed, the theory would simply not die. Ask any follower of Icke, and they will point you to images of the ruling elite, such as this photograph of Michael Chertoff (Secretary of homeland security from 2005 to 2009). That is supposedly the face he makes before shape-shifting into a ten foot lizard. Even we are to dismiss the claims of Icke’s followers, the generally accepted consensus among the alternate media is that the man exists to defecate on the liberties of the American people. Chertoff’s grandpoppa is of Russian origin, and in Soviet Russia, Internet surfs YOU! In a February 9th 2012 op-ed in the Washington post, Chertoff can be seen whining how EU privacy laws may “balkanize” the Internet, because American Cloud Computing providers will not be allowed to invade the privacy of their European customers.
Update (A Thirteenth Reason?): Like it or not, Cloud Computing is being forced down your throat
In late June of 2012, some Internet users discovered that they were being prevented from accessing certain websites that contained keywords relating to porn and copyright infringement. It turns out that Cisco had remotely updated their router software, forcing them to use a new cloud service that censored websites containing the aforementioned keywords. In order for the censorship to work, the urls the Internet users were visiting were being forwarded to Cisco’s Connect Cloud Service and people rightly feared that Cisco was using the Cloud to spy on their Internet activities. Cisco quickly backtracked and issued an apology.
In more recent shenanigans, the babyish design of the Windows 8 tile interface was discovered to be another attempt to shove Cloud Computing on unsuspecting computer users. While the Tile interface is great for touchscreens and tablets, it can be fairly problematic when it comes to managing files. There is no way to access the Windows file system through it. The Tiles got the Windows user base so grumpy that Windows 8 caused the most precipitous decline in PC history! And the dumbed down approach has caused such consternation among power users that the free Windows 8.1 update restores the classic “Start” button and allows users to bypass the Tile interface to reach the good old “Desktop.” Microsoft has touted the Tile interface as a way for your apps and programs to provide you with updated information while running in the background. But the apps and programs that provide “live” info through Tiles are mainly cloud based apps. For example, Microsoft charges a hefty price for its Outlook mail client. Any rational user would expect that there would be an Outlook Tile which would notify them of new messages, reminders and calendar appointments, given the simplicity of programming such a Tile. But no, there ain’t. The only usable Tile that can be used for email and calendar hooks up to Microsoft’s cloud-based email service. Outlook users drawing mail from their own email service providers are simply not invited to the Tile interface. To quote on exasperated user:
They are trying to FORCE people into the cloud, Their cloud in order to get these tiles to work at all.
And another user:
I think that Microsoft will soon find itself under the guns of the law AGAIN if they don’t release a way for people to use these features with an enterprise environment WITHOUT having to use their live accounts. It is crazy to think that they are trying to force an enterprise user to use their mail and calendar apps, but won’t let you use your information locally in it. I think that Microsoft ahs really missed the mark here. I know that most tester and die-hards will just say “use the main Outlook” and I am. Here is the point though, IF you are going to supposedly revolutionize Windows and take away a]our START button and force us to use the new UI, Then the LEAST you can do is make all the bells and whistles offered work Locally and through your new online service. Don’t tell us that in order for it to work, we can only use yours.
The Mail and Calendar Tiles that do work in Windows 8 sync up with Microsoft’s servers. Given the fact that Microsoft has officially admitted to releasing the data of 137,424 of its users to various world governments, can it be trusted with such private information?
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