We’ve heard the complaints about the lack of Google Services and how it prevents so many Android users from seriously considering a BlackBerry 10 device. Long before the NSA scandal, I’ve always had my suspicions about this company’s intent when creating these services. I even doubted my own paranoia, thinking this is still America, land of the free right? We have privacy rights and freedom from government surveillance.
I already knew they stored what I searched for. But to be on the safe side – I switched from the Chrome browser to Firefox. Then Google wanted my calendar, they took over Youtube to get control of my videos, they gave me the ability to use maps to direct me to my destination, they had all the information to know where and when I would be here or there and track me to confirm it. Then they offered Google hangouts and groups so they could keep tabs on who I associate with.
This all started to sound very Orwellian, in fact more Orwellian than George Orwell himself could have imagined. When I was younger I saw the movie 1984, at a time when closed circuit TV was too prohibitive in cost to have one in everyone’s living room so that “Big Brother” could always know your thoughts, your schemes your whereabouts, your doings. It was creepy, but just fiction, this could never happen in real life, especially not in a free country.
But it has.
Open source developers have spotted the Chromium browser, the open source basis for Google’s Chrome, remotely installing audio snooping code capable of listening to users.
Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room,” said Rick Falkvinge, the Pirate party founder, in a blog post. “Which means that your computer had been stealth configured to send what was being said in your room to somebody else, to a private company in another country, without your consent or knowledge, an audio transmission triggered by … an unknown and unverifiable set of conditions.”
The feature is installed by default as part of Google’s Chrome browser.
After having identified Chromium as the culprit, developer Ofer Zelig said in a blog post: “While I was working I thought ‘I’m noticing that an LED goes on and off, on the corner of my eyesight [webcam]’. And after a few times when it just seemed weird, I sat to watch for it and saw it happening. Every few seconds or so.”
If this is what Google is up to, just how much are those services worth to you? Your freedom, your privacy, your security?
It’s a high price, considering that there are alternatives that aren’t quite so …shall we say, creepy.
In related news, the award winning privacy-enhancing technology company Disconnect, founded by former Google engineers, has filed a complaint with European anti-trust regulators after its Android app was banned from the Google Play Store. The app was designed to protect smartphone users from invisible tracking and malware distributed through online advertisements.
Disconnect argues in it’s complaint:
Invisible, unsolicited tracking is Google’s lifeblood. The company makes virtually all of its revenue from advertising. Tracking permits Google to target its ads and, hence, to charge advertisers far more for ad placement. Indeed, Google is under enormous pressure from the financial community to increase the “effectiveness” of its tracking, so that it can increase revenues and profits. Giving a user the ability to control his own privacy information (and to protect himself from malware) by blocking invisible connections to problematic sites constitutes an existential threat to Google.
As for me, I’m pretty happy NOT to have any ‘services’ from this privacy and data mining company with the big Googly eyes. BlackBerry forever!