It wasn’t until I saw my employer pull out a new Android phone recently did I realized the next level in privacy matters: business trade secrets.
You’d be hard pressed to find a much stauncher critic of cute & cuddly Google than yours truly, yet somehow I hadn’t pondered this realm. Of course I started with ‘No, now Google can track your every move, and listen in on your daily routine’, and of course in response I got “if I’m not a terrorist then what do I care”. Never mind that we all have only certain things that we’ll say in front of certain people, yet now we’re supposed embrace evil governments and corporations tracking our every move and cataloging our every breath of spoken word?
The thing about these phones is they don’t merely listen in while you talk on them, they listen in virtually all the time as we’ll see below. It stands to reason that the camera is also always looking for imagery worth cataloging. These arguments, and my barrage of many others were stonewalled with the general idea that “to stay competitive in the business world I need the latest technology”. After hearing this enough times it occurred to me that Google seems to have set themselves up for the ultimate scheme in mass scale industrial espionage.
I’ll remind everyone that federal law mandates that cell phone manufacturers include built-in GPS for ‘9-1-1 locating’ (tracking) purposes. Furthermore, spook agencies such as the FBI can activate your phones microphone and listen in on anything the microphone can pick up. They can even do this while the phone is shut off, as reported by, believe it or not, Fox News:
In 2008, when Google was launching the Android, it became obvious to me that Google had set out to make people want to be tracked by GPS. Then and even still it just doesn’t occur to people that they’re being tracked by these devices. One odd Android launch applet even had you broadcasting your location to -whoever- to brag about when you’re cooking dinner. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. Today they apparently have something on the order of 50,000 applets, and you can bet something around half of those have something to do with GPS.
Or course the federal government has had the ability to track us since at least 2005. Recently it was reported that Verizon and T-Mobile save your location information next to all of your phone call records. Meanwhile, back in February Obama’s Justice Dept. fought to keep the ‘right’ for virtually all law enforcement officers and agents to use our phones to to track and monitor us without a warrant.
So it’s already bad enough that we have this despotic government tracking us like slaves in a rat maze, even when it comes to industry trade secrets:
The most extensive claims yet came this spring in a report written for the European Parliament. The report says that the U.S.
National Security Agency, through an electronic surveillance system called Echelon, routinely tracks telephone, fax, and e-mail transmissions from around the world and passes on useful corporate intelligence to American companies.
Among the allegations: that the NSA fed information to Boeing and McDonnell Douglas enabling the companies to beat out European Airbus Industrie for a $ 6 billion contract; and that Raytheon received information that helped it win a $ 1.3 billion contract to provide radar to Brazil, edging out the French company Thomson-CSF. These claims follow previous allegations that the NSA supplied U.S. automakers with information that helped improve their competitiveness with the Japanese (see “Company Spies,” May/June 1994).
Hearing such allegations isn’t much of a surprise to me, but now we’re talking about a private corporation, Google (that is now partnered with the NSA), being on the direct receiving end of your communications and whereabouts.
As stated earlier, Google will also be listening on your entire day, not just your phone calls. This is a pretty easy allegation to make, considering that in 2006 Google went on the record stating that they’ll be listening to peoples daily routines by tapping their computer microphones, and with other ‘real world products’.
The idea appeared in Technology Review citing Peter Norvig, director of research at Google, who says these ideas will show up eventually in real Google products – sooner rather than later.
The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room on the subject.
And, of course, we wouldn’t put it past Google to store that information away, along with the search terms it keeps that you’ve used, and the web pages you have visited, to help it create a personalised profile that feeds you just the right kind of adverts/content. And given that it is trying to develop alternative approaches to TV advertising, it could go the extra step and help send “content relevant” advertising to your TV as well. www.theregister.co.uk…
So now we’re supposed to trust Google with our web searches, our web travels, emails, phone calls & text messages, GPS location, our daily routines and conversations, and a number of other things? This is the same Google who is directly linked with the NSA, CIA, DARPA, NASA and even the National Science Foundation. The NSF can’t be bad can they?
Take the example of “personal maps” explained by NSF bigshot Mihail Roco. In his book, “Progress in Convergence”, he supports the use of raw GPS data in tracking peoples personal daily movements. He explains:
“over the last years, estimating a person’s activities has gained increased interest in the artificial intelligence, robotics, and ubiquitous computing communities.”
“the concept of a personal map, which is customized based on an individual’s behavior. A personal map includes personally significant places, such as home, a workplace, shopping centers, and meeting places and personally significant routes (i.e., the paths and transportation modes, such as foot, car, or bus, that the person usually uses to travel from place to place). In contrast with general maps, a personal map is customized and primarily useful for a given person. Because of the customization, it is well suited for recognizing an individual’s behavior and offering detailed personalized help.”
It goes on to highlight the use of AI powered personal maps to discriminate a targets activities, predict future movements and transportation modes and infer when the target has broken their ordinary routine. (See the full paper on this key point.)
So it sounds like the NSF has found in Google their solution to the “personal maps” ‘problem’. (Technocrats always refer to non-achieved ideas, no matter how alarming & dastardly, as “problems” that need to be ‘solved’.) This is assuming that the NSA hasn’t already been using AI “personal maps” software as described by Roco, but I posit that they likely needed Google’s advanced AI systems integrated into their own in order to effectively track and catalog everybody. Aside from the Google-NSF ‘merger’, I normally argue that it’s bad enough that the FedGov is tracking us, but at least by not using Android corporations like Google don’t have a direct link into our pockets. In any case, the NSA & Google ‘are a match made in hell‘.
Now consider Android’s Machine Vision features. One form that comes to mind is “Biowallet”, which is a biometric iris scanner applet that won in the first round of Google’s Android “developers challenge”. I hate to think of how many there must be out there who think it would be so cool to give their iris scan to Google and the federal government, using Android.
Another thrust in Google’s machine vision activities in recent years is video facial recognition and object recognition. Google’s quest is to monitor the real world in real time, like a reality TV version of Google Earth with Street View. By the way, Google acquired the technology to build Google Maps & Google Earth from a CIA venture firm project by In-Q-Tel. (www.resourceshelf.com… )
Neven Vision comes to Google with deep technology and expertise around automatically extracting information from a photo. It could be as simple as detecting whether or not a photo contains a person, or, one day, as complex as recognizing people, places, and objects. This technology just may make it a lot easier for you to organize and find the photos you care about. We don’t have any specific features to show off today, but we’re looking forward to having more to share with you soon.
Here’s a recent example of another firms success in biometric identity acquisition:
Now many might say ‘they don’t have enough people to do all that work’, but Google’s mastery of artificial intelligence has The Machine do this work for them. Their system is so remarkable that when you use Google’s services you don’t only fund their operation, but you also help make it smarter to be even more powerful. As I argued in October 2008:
“An intelligent thinking machine would also needs ears, and ears they are giving it. Make a call to 1-800-GOOG411 and experience their speech recognition algorithms for yourself. No surprise that the service is free, because the more people use it the more you help them reach their goal of omniscience.”
As I was proven correct in November 2008:
If you own an iPhone, you can now be part of one of the most ambitious speech-recognition experiments ever launched. On Monday, Google announced that it had added voice search to its iPhone mobile application, allowing people to speak search terms into their phones and view the results on the screen.
Fortunately, Google also has a huge amount of data on how people use search, and it was able to use that to train its algorithms. If the system has trouble interpreting one word in a query, for instance, it can fall back on data about which terms are frequently grouped together.
Google also had a useful set of data correlating speech samples with written words, culled from its free directory service, Goog411. People call the service and say the name of a city and state, and then say the name of a business or category. According to Mike Cohen, a Google research scientist, voice samples from this service were the main source of acoustic data for training the system.
But the data that Google used to build the system pales in comparison to the data that it now has the chance to collect. “The nice thing about this application is that Google will collect all this speech data,” says Jim Glass, a principal research scientist at MIT. “And by getting all this data, they will improve their recognizer even more.” LINK
Which brings us back to the topic of Trade Secrets. The smarter their system becomes the better it will be able to collect and sort business trade secrets, ideas, concepts, methodologies, haggling skills, ‘dirt’, and so on. You’re literally handing them (and the government for that matter) the power to eavesdrop all of your business calls and activities, along with your ‘rolodex’ and any other little notes you store in the phone. Not only is this dangerous for your bottom line its dangerous for us all in creating a monster corporatist quazi-governmental institution wielding the power of “all of the worlds information”. This is so dangerous that we need to be alert to any others positioning themselves likewise.