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For the Paranoid at Heart: New Privacy Concerns from Columbia University and Google

September 23, 2016

The article on PhysOrg titled Location Data on Two Apps Enough to Identify Someone, Says Study illustrates the inadequacy of deleting names and personal details from big data sets. Location metadata undermines the anonymity of this data. Researchers at Columbia University and Google teamed up to establish that individuals can easily be identified simply by comparing their movements across two data sets. The article states,

What this really shows is that simply removing identifying information from large-scale data sets is not sufficient,” said Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab who was not involved in the study. “We need to move to a model of privacy-through-security. Instead of anonymizing data and making it public, there should be technical controls over who gets access to the data, how it is used, and for what purpose.

Just by bringing your phone with you, (and who doesn’t?) you create vast amounts of location metadata about yourself, often without your knowledge. As more and more apps require you to offer your location, it becomes less difficult for various companies to access the data. If you are interested in exploring how easy it is to figure out your identity based on your social media usage, visit You Are Where You Go.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 23, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/


Alphabet Google Faces a Secret Foe

September 21, 2016

I thought indexing the world’s information made it possible to put together disparate items of information. Once assembled, these clues from the world of real time online content would allow a person with access to answer a business question.

Apparently for Alphabet Google it faces a secret foe. I learned this by reading “Secretive Foe Attacks Google over Government Influence.” I learned:

Google has come under attack by a mysterious group that keeps mum about its sponsors while issuing scathing reports about the Mountain View search giant’s influence on government.

The blockbuster write up reported:

So far, only Redwood Shores-based Oracle has admitted to funding the Transparency Project, telling Fortune it wanted the public to know about its support for the initiative.

Yikes, a neighbor based at the now long gone Sea World.

The outfit going after the lovable Alphabet Google thing is called the Transparency Group. The excited syntax of the write up told me:

The Transparency Project commenced hostilities against Google in April, gaining national media attention with a report tracking the number of Googlers taking jobs in the White House and federal agencies, and the number of federal officials traveling in the other direction, into Google. Project researchers reported 113 “revolving door” moves between Google — plus its associated companies, law firms and lobbyists — and the White House and federal agencies.

Okay, but back to my original point. With the world’s information at one’s metaphorical fingerprints, is it not possible to process email, Google Plus, user search histories, and similar data laden troves for clues about the Transparency Group?

Perhaps the Alphabet Google entity lacks the staff and software to perform this type of analysis? May I suggest a quick telephone call to Palantir Technologies. From what I understand by reading open source information about the Gotham product, Palantir can knit together disparate and fragmented data and put the members of the Transparency Group on the map in a manner of speaking.

I understand the concept of finding fault with a near perfect company. But the inability of a search giant to find out who, what, when, where, what, how, and why baffles me.

It does not, as an old school engineer with a pocket protector might say, compute.

Stephen E Arnold, September 14, 2016

Paris Police Face Data Problem in Google Tax Evasion Investigation

September 20, 2016

Google has been under scrutiny for suspected tax evasion. Yahoo published a brief piece updating us on the investigation: Data analysis from Paris raid on Google will take months, possibly years: prosecutor. French police raided Google’s office in Paris, taking the tax avoidance inquiry to a new level. This comes after much pressure from across Europe to prevent multinational corporations from using their worldwide presence to pay less taxes. Financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette is quoted stating,

We have collected a lot of computer data, Houlette said in an interview with Europe 1 radio, TV channel iTele and newspaper Le Monde, adding that 96 people took part in the raid. “We need to analyze (the data) … (it will take) months, I hope that it won’t be several years, but we are very limited in resources’. Google, which said it is complying fully with French law, is under pressure across Europe from public opinion and governments angry at the way multinationals exploit their global presence to minimize tax liabilities.

While big data search technology exists, government and law enforcement agencies may not have the funds to utilize such technologies. Or, perhaps the knowledge of open source solutions is not apparent. If nothing else, these comments made by Houlette go to show the need for increased focus on upgrading systems for real-time and rapid data analysis.

Megan Feil, September 20, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/


Is the UK Tolling the App Death Knell for Government Services?

September 14, 2016

The article titled Why Britain Banned Mobile Apps on GovInsider introduces Ben Terret and the innovative UK Government Digital Service program, the first of its kind in the world. Terret spearheaded a strict “no apps” policy in favor of websites while emphasizing efficiency, clarity, cost savings, and relevance of the information. This all adds up to creating a simple and streamlined experience for UK citizens. Terret explains why this approach is superior in an app-crazed world,

Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” Terrett says. “I would say if you times that by 300, you’re suddenly talking about a huge team people and a ton of money to maintain that ecosystem”…Sites can adapt to any screen size, work on all devices, and are open to everyone to use regardless of their device.

So what do these websites look like? They are clean, simple, and operated under the assumption that “Google is the homepage.” Terrett measures the success of a given digital services by monitoring how many users complete a transaction, or how many continued to search for additional information, documents, or services. Terrett’s argument against apps is a convincing one, especially based on the issue of cutting expenses. Whether this argument translates into the private sector is another question.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 14, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

True or False: Google Fakes Results for Social Engineering

September 13, 2016

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we love the Alphabet Google thing. When we read anti Google articles, we are baffled. Why don’t these articles love and respect the GOOG as we do? A case in point is “How Google’s Search Engines Use Faked Results for Social Engineering.” The loaded words “faked results” and “social engineering” put us on our guard.

What is the angle the write up pursues? Let’s look.

I highlighted this passage as a way get my intellectual toe in the murky water:

Google published an “overview” of how SEO works, but in a nutshell, Google searches for the freshest, most authoritative, easiest-to-display (desktop/laptop and mobile) content to serve its search engine users. It crawls, caches (grabs) content, calculates the speed of download, looks at textual content, counts words to find relevance, and compares how it looks on different sized devices. It not only analyzes what other sites link to it, but counts the number of these links and then determines their quality, meaning the degree to which the links in those sites are considered authoritative. Further, there are algorithms in place that block the listing of “spammy” sites, although, spam would not be relevant here. And recently, they have claimed to boost sites using HTTPS to promote security and privacy (fox henhouse?).

I am not sure about the “fox hen house” reference because fox is a popular burgoo addition. As a result the critters are few and far between. Too bad. They are tasty and their tails make nifty additions to cold weather parkas.

The author of the write up is not happy with how Google responds to a query for “Jihad.” I learned:

Google’s search results give pride of place to IslamicSupremeCouncil.org. The problem, according to the write up, is that this site is not a big hitter in the Jihad content space.

The article points out that Google does not return the search results the person running the test queries expected. The article points out:

When someone in the US, perhaps wanting to educate themselves on the subject, searches for “Jihad” and sees the Islamic Supreme Council as the top-ranked site, the perception is that this is the global, unbiased and authoritative view. If they click on that first, seemingly most popular link, their perception of Jihad will be skewed by the beliefs and doctrine of this peaceful group of people. These people who merely dabble on the edge of Islamic doctrine. These people who are themselves repeatedly targeted for their beliefs that are contrary to those of the majority of Muslims. These people who do not even come close to being any sort of credible or realistic representation of the larger and more prevalent subscribers (nay soldiers) of the “Lesser Jihad” (again, the violent kind).

My thought is that the results I expect from any ad supported, publicly accessible search system are rarely what I expect. The more I know about a particular subject—how legacy search system marketing distorts what the systems can actually do—the more disappointed I am with the search results.

I don’t think Google is intentionally distorting search results. Certain topics just don’t match up to the Google algorithms. Google is pretty good at sports, pizza, and the Housewives of Beverly Hills. Google is not particularly good with fine grained distinctions in certain topic spaces.

If the information presented by, for instance, the Railway Retirement Board is not searched, the Google system does its best to find a way to sell an ad against a topic or word. In short, Google does better with certain popular subjects which generate ad revenue.

Legacy enterprise search systems like STAIRS III are not going to be easy to search. Nailing down the names of the programmers in Germany who worked on the system and how the STAIRS III system influenced BRS Search is a tough slog with the really keen Google system.

If I attribute Google’s indifference to information about STAIRS III to a master scheme put in place by Messrs. Brin and Page, I would be giving them a heck of a lot of credit for micro managing how content is indexed.

The social engineering angle is more difficult for me to understand. I don’t think Google is biased against mainframe search systems which are 50 years old. The content, the traffic, and the ad focus pretty much guarantee that STAIRS III is presented in a good enough way.

The problem, therefore, is that Google’s whiz kid technology is increasingly good enough. That means average or maybe a D plus. The yardstick is neither precision nor recall. At Google, revenue counts.

Baidu, Bing, Silobreaker, Qwant, and Yandex, among other search systems, have similar challenges. But each system is tending to the “good enough” norm. Presenting any subject in a way which makes a subject matter expert happy is not what these systems are tuned to do.

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we recognize that multiple queries across multiple systems are a good first step in research. Then there is the task of identifying individuals with particular expertise and trying to speak with them or at least read what they have written. Finally, there is the slog through the dead tree world.

Expecting Google or any free search engine to perform sophisticated knowledge centric research is okay. We prefer the old fashioned approach to research. That’s why Beyond Search documents some of the more interesting approaches revealed in the world of online analysis.

I like the notion of social engineering, particularly the Augmentext approach. But Google is more interested in money and itself than many search topics which are not represented in a way which I would like. Does Google hate me? Nah, Google doesn’t know I exist. Does Google discriminate against STAIRS III? Nah, of Google’s 65,000 employees probably fewer than 50 know what STAIRS III is? Do Googlers understand revenue? Yep, pretty much.

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2016

Jigsaw Reveals How Google Can Manipulate Thought and Behavior

September 12, 2016

Who knew? There have been suggestions that Alphabet Google manipulates search results. But the disclosure of a “clever plan to stop aspiring ISIS recruits” makes clear one thing: Alphabet Google can manipulate to some degree what a person thinks and how that person may then behave.

To get the details, navigate to Wired, the truth speaker for the technical aficionados. The article is “Google’s Clever Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits.” Let’s visit some of the factoids in the article. I, of course, believe everything I read online.

Alphabet Google used to have an outfit called Google Ideas. Ideas, in my book, are a dime a dozen. The key is converting and idea to action and then shaping the idea to generate revenue. The Google Ideas group donned a new moniker, Jigsaw. According to the write up:

Jigsaw, the Google-owned tech incubator and think tank—until recently known as Google Ideas—has been working over the past year to develop a new program it hopes can use a combination of Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to target aspiring ISIS recruits and ultimately dissuade them from joining the group’s cult of apocalyptic violence. The program, which Jigsaw calls the Redirect Method and plans to launch in a new phase this month, places advertising alongside results for any keywords and phrases that Jigsaw has determined people attracted to ISIS commonly search for. Those ads link to Arabic- and English-language YouTube channels that pull together preexisting videos Jigsaw believes can effectively undo ISIS’s brainwashing—clips like testimonials from former extremists, imams denouncing ISIS’s corruption of Islam, and surreptitiously filmed clips inside the group’s dysfunctional caliphate in Northern Syria and Iraq.

This paragraph is mildly interesting and presents weaponized information in a matter of fact, what’s the big deal way. Consider these points:

  1. Search ad numerical recipes and videos. Quite a combination.
  2. Redirect. Send folks a different place from the place they really want to go.
  3. Undo brainwashing. Now that’s an interesting concept. Isn’t brainwashing a tough nut to crack. Cults, Jim Jones, etc.
  4. Shifting attention from a “dysfunctional caliphate” to something more acceptable. Okay for ISIS, but what if the GOOG substitutes other content to something else. Right, it will never happen. Mother Google is a really good person.

The article hits the high spots of censorship, including Twitter and the US Department of State’s Think Again, Turn Away, and everyone’s favorite cartoon Average Mohammed.


Click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vJ-SlxjRrQ which may be offline after the Wired article hit the Internet.

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Ads Appear Here, There, and Everywhere Across Google Landscape

September 12, 2016

The article on CNN Money titled Google Is Going to Start Showing You More Ads discusses the surge in ads that users can expect to barely notice over the coming weeks and months. In efforts to ramp up mobile ad revenue to match the increasing emphasis on mobile search, Google is making mobile ads bigger, more numerous, and just more. The article explains,

Google will be simplifying the work flow for businesses to create display ads with images. The company says advertisers need to “simply provide headlines, a description, an image, and a URL,” and Google will automatically design ads for the business. Location-based ads will start showing up on Google too. If you search for “shoe store” or “car repair near me,” ads for local businesses will populate the search results… The changes come as Google is trying to stay ahead of customers’ changing demands.

Google claims in the article that the increase is already showing strong results for advertisers, which click-through rates (CTR) up 20%. But it is hard to believe. As ads flood the space between articles, search results, and even Google Map directions, they seem to be no more significant than an increase in white noise. If Google really wants to revolutionize marketing, they are going to need to dig deeper than just squeezing more ads in between the lines.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 12, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/


Google Springboard: Diving into Familiar Water

September 10, 2016

In June 2016, Google we learned the creator of the late, the replacement for the champion Google Search Appliance was bouncing up and down on the enterprise search diving board. Springboard, GOOG’s latest “new” search product  was was, like the GSA, designed to put the right information at one’s fingertips. After the announcement in the Google for Work Official Blog, the product has down shallow dives in kiddie pools. Three laps later, Google is checking out more competitive indoor swimming facilities.

We learned this in “Box Teams Up with Google for Docs and Springboard Integration.” The announcement reveals a different approach to enterprise search for the GOOG. In the good old days, one could pony up hefty sums to license the Google Search Appliance. Google had determined more than a decade ago that on premises enterprise search systems like Autonomy IDOL (RIP) or Fast Search & Transfer ESP were too difficult for mere mortal to deploy in a cost effective manner. Google figured a search appliance, a finding toaster if I may craft a metaphor, was the solution. It really wasn’t. Google backed away from the expensive servers. From the fit go, Google’s use of on premises, old fashioned hardware seemed to run counter to the Google cloud ad search business.

We noted this statement in the “Box Teams Up” write up:

It may seem a little odd for Google to be collaborating with Box on cloud storage when Google has its own offering there, which is also a revenue driver for the search giant. But the partnership is actually only really likely to benefit customers of both groups, without really biting into the customer base of either, given the distinctions between what Box and Google Drive can provide.

The major features of Springboard from what we can see from our cabin in Harrod’s Creek are:

  • Connectors to federate content
  • Quick and easy searching across the content
  • Assistance with “useful and actionable information throughout the day.

For more than six years the savvy Alphabet Google thing watched Amazon, Elastic, SearchBlox, Yippy and other vendors roll out cloud search solutions. As surprising as it is to some people, Google’s slow response to cloud based enterprise search underscores the malaise which seems to be emerging around the volleyball court. Will Googlers execute perfectly an arm stand back double somersault tuck into the pool from its Springboard?

Google’s marketing reminded me that I was  19 percent of one’s time looking for information. If I own a GSA (which I no longer possess), that device did not really help me out if Google’s data are correct? Will Springboard?

We will have to wait for an enterprise search competition before we know if Google wins a medal. One hopes Springboard will have that Elastic bounce.

Stephen E Arnold, September 10, 2016

Alphabet Google Spells Mess for One Expert

September 10, 2016

An MBA infused article caught my attention. The title was a magnet, and I was not hunting for Google related information. Nevertheless, I read “Larry Page’s Grand Plan for Google Looks More Like a Mess than a Success.” Before I comment on the write up, I must admit I liked the euphony of “mess” and “success.” Ogden Nash would have approved I surmise.

The main point is that Google leveled up and created Alphabet. The idea was that a Ling Temco Vought style outfit would be more in tune with the Loon balloon business, the solving death business, the Google Fiber business, and the other alleged money engines the online ad firm was inventing or, at least, me-too’ing.

The write up points out that some financial discipline is in evidence. Google Fiber and the quite exciting Nest initiatives are under scrutiny. I noted this passage:

the company’s self-driving car project still hasn’t announced any business plan and a bunch of people have left. The life sciences division Verily has been accused of peddling “slideware,” and Google just killed its ambitious build-it-yourself-phone.

Right, the modular phone. Great idea. What happens when the little gem is dropped or the coefficient of friction decreases with use and the electronic bits drop into the garbage disposal?

The write up adds:

right now, the parts of the company that were once the perfect marketing for luring potential talent and showing off Google as the world’s most influential tech pioneer, look more like a mess than an advertisement.

Okay. That seems to be a bit negative.

Here in Harrod’s Creek, we love the Alphabet Google thing. The MBA-ish write up does not ask this question, “Why does Alphabet Google assume that its new initiatives will succeed?” The DNA of Google is anchored in the proteins of GoTo.com and Overture.com. This means Yahoo purple in these Alphabet Google progeny.

How is that family tree performing? After 15 years, Google has one revenue stream. Google’s success with “innovations” seems to be counter to the image the company tries to project. Do MBAs understand the mentality of “go to” members of the math team and science club? The last time I drove down 101 I noted a strong scent of musk when a Google self driving car crept past me. Interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, September 10, 2016

Revenue Takes a Backseat to Patent Filings at IBM

September 9, 2016

The post on Slashdot titled IBM Has Been Awarded an Average of 24 Patents Per Day So Far in 2016 compares the patent development emphasis of major companies, with IBM coming out on top with 3,617 patent awards so far in 2016, according to a Quartz report. Patents are the bi-product of IBM’s focus on scientific research, as the report finds,

The company is in the middle of a painful reinvention, that sees the company shifting further away from hardware sales into cloud computing, analytics, and AI services. It’s also plugging away on a myriad of fundamental scientific research projects — many of which could revolutionize the world if they can come to fruition — which is where many of its patent applications originate. IBM accounted for about 1% of all US patents awarded in 2015.

Samsung claimed a close second (with just over 3,000 patents), and on the next rung down sits Google (with roughly 1,500 patents for the same period), Intel, Qualcomm, Microsoft, and Apple. Keep in mind though, that IBM and Samsung have been awarded more than twice as many patents as Google and the others, making it an unstoppable patent machine. You may well ask, what about revenue? They will get back to you on that score later.

Chelsea Kerwin, September 9, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph
There is a Louisville, Kentucky Hidden Web/Dark Web meet up on September 27, 2016.
Information is at this link: https://www.meetup.com/Louisville-Hidden-Dark-Web-Meetup/events/233599645/

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