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Subject: [IP] more on Google search and seizure, etc. vs. technologists

  • From: David Farber <>
  • To:
  • Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2005 17:33:05 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: Bob Frankston <>
Date: December 4, 2005 12:48:19 PM EST
Cc: &quot;'Lauren Weinstein'&quot; <>
Subject: RE: [IP] Google search and seizure, etc. vs. technologists

After writing my comments below I was going to close by noting that there
is far more to worry about with fingerprints than Google since there is
still a belief that finger prints are authoritative even if there is only a
small portion recovered and the matching is subjective.

In the same way we can try to avoid leaving any tracks and live a very
circumscribed life. Or we can hope that our trails are noisy and that a
visit to (vs will not mark us for life. Who
knows if the visit was intended, unintended, prurient or just curious?

This isn't really about technology in isolation or Google per se.

We should do what we can to make people aware of these issues -- as with
Sony DRM ultimately it's people's perception. If Google is seen as spying
on us then they will lose too much business. Ultimately it's that rather
than users setting complex option that limits threats.

It's about transparency -- we need to pry into Google's closets before they
pry into ours.

The average user didn't understand the Internet until it was packaged in a
browser and today the internet is the web and people still don't understand
it beyond the simple examples they have. But even if they think that people
are watching them they don't know what it means. Even the so-called experts
implement link level security instead of end to end.

As to Google keeping track of your searches ... what about the trail you
leave in that old world of physical objects when you use your credit cards.
A few key words on Google are mild compared with you are stop at the 7-11
and the cell call you made or the email messages. The threat of Google
keeping track of your keywords is very abstract. The reason this story made
the news is that it is very unusual.

Those who say users will never be able to use computers for word processing
for have LANs at home were right.

And completely wrong.

There is a middle ground -- it doesn't just happen by accident. Someone has
to create a bridge. If the other &quot;side&quot; is visible then more people would
try. There is a book, &quot;Crossing the Chasm&quot;, about getting people to make
the leap. More often we have to build the bridges before people know there
is even an other side.

And very often there really isn't or we pick the wrong one. Handwriting
recognition was a big deal but a failure until Graffiti. Today oddly enough
Palm is emphasizing little keyboards and Microsoft is trying to push full
handwriting recognition. So much for presuming a simple linear path.

Home networking (LANs) is personal for me since I had to make sure the
Windows had the enabling mechanisms and I was trying to move in the
direction of encrypted IPv6 with legacy ports locked down.

Unfortunately we still haven't learned the lessons of Multics and Project
MAC ( as in Man/Machine Symbiosis)
in giving users a way to understand and express their intent. Of course
it's far more difficult today. At least in Multics you had to take a step
to make your files visible while Unix defaulted to starting with the door
wide open.

We do have a way to say &quot;no cookies&quot; but you can't really do much that way.
Same problem with the Java VM in the browser -- there is an all or nothing

Worrying about Google tracking you is in the same vein. If you use their
single login it's like being tracked by American Express or by your
library. Of course we know librarians won't track you -- but they will
track which books are popular and a really good library may try to make
better predictions so they can better serve you even if the chortle at some
of the findings.

If you don't use a single login then it's really hard to avail yourself of
their set of services. Same for Yahoo, AOL, MSN etc. As much as I have
problems with passport there seems to be some separation between your
&quot;identity&quot; and its use.

The reason I keep coming back to phishing is that it goes to the heart of
some of our perceptions. Is &quot;Google&quot; a nice warm friendly site or a site
that promises to be worth more than a few billion dollars?

I once looked up &quot;Sodomy in Georgia&quot; on Yahoo which was the title of a
David Bunnell editorial in the 1980's. The ads that popped up showed what
they thought of my search (a good reason for not having animated GIFs in
ads) and, by extension, me. BTW, just tried the search on Google in an
attempt to pollute my legacy and the law was eventually repealed.

Should I shy away from searching? Should I not give to political candidates
(the disclosure laws are indeed a violation of the first amendment)? Should
I worry too much about police finding a latent pencil line on a pad of
paper in my house having the words &quot;dead meat&quot; on it (a reminder to buy

-----Original Message----- From: David Farber [] Sent: Sunday, December 04, 2005 05:52 To: Subject: [IP] Google search and seizure, etc. vs. technologists

Begin forwarded message:

From: Lauren Weinstein <>
Date: December 3, 2005 8:53:22 PM EST
Subject: Re: [IP] Google search and seizure, etc. vs. technologists

In the 1980s, the &quot;average user&quot; would never
need a local area network in his home. In the early 1990s, the
&quot;average user&quot; would never understand or need the Internet. And so on.

In fact, the reality of the current security and privacy mess with the Internet helps to prove my point. For example, talk to the folks who drive around plotting all of the open wireless LANs that are literally everywhere in virtually every neighborhood. The vast majority of them have *no* security at all -- not even cruddy old WEP. This includes businesses, medical offices, you name it, as well as vast numbers of private homes. Yet, for years every WLAN product has included at the very least WEP capabilities, and instructions on how to set it up. Despite this, many people's open WLANs are constantly being abused, sometimes with tragic results.

That situation is gradually starting to improve, but only because the
setting up of *some* level of security has become part of the
standard installation scripts for many products.  But until this
became the *default*, even when it was easy to use, most people
didn't bother.  Why?  Most of the time, simply because they didn't
believe that any associated risks applied to them -- and that view
is easy to understand.  The computer industry is great at promoting
the vast benefits of their products, but do their best to keep the
downsides to the fine print, buried in click-through license
mumbo-jumbo that even many lawyers would have trouble understanding,
along with lilliputian quick-start guides that are the only
instructions many people read.

The same thing goes for Internet services.  It is utterly reasonable
to expect that the *defaults* provided will respect people's privacy,
security, and other rights.  We are a society of laws and those laws
are there (at least in theory) to help protect those rights.  It is
unfair in the extreme to suggest that anyone who doesn't jump
through hoops to protect themselves from information abuse is
somehow negligent, while asserting that legislative efforts should
not be made to rein in the way that the services behave -- so that
those services meet a reasonable standard that society agrees is

Yes, imposing society's will on such firms can be tough to do,
especially when dealing with powerful and well-heeled interests.
But not to do so -- to not even try -- is just surrendering to what
most of us know in our hearts is just plain wrong.

Lauren Weinstein or or
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR
   - People For Internet Responsibility -
Co-Founder, EEPI
   - Electronic Entertainment Policy Initiative -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog:

  - - -

Begin forwarded message:

From: Phil Karn <>
Date: December 3, 2005 7:10:30 PM EST
Subject: Re: [IP] Google search and seizure, etc. vs. technologists

From: Lauren Weinstein <>

1) Any practical attempt to &quot;swamp&quot; Google's database in such a
   manner is unlikely to succeed, given the sheer volume of legit
   queries that they receive.  I suspect they'd be smart enough to
   detect abuse patterns fairly easily.  That kind of analysis is
   their bread and butter.

The idea is not to &quot;swamp&quot; Google. It's simply to create a little plausible deniability -- i.e., reasonable doubt -- that a given search was entered by the user and not by the automatic daemon.

2) Attempts to purposely &quot;abuse&quot; Google in such a manner (faked
   requests) may well violate their Terms of Service, and if they
   don't now you can be sure that they will in some future version
   of the ToS.  The likely result will at a minimum be bans and ISP
   actions, and at the max lawsuits.  Pull out your wallet.

Again, &quot;swamping&quot; or &quot;abusing&quot; Google is not the intent, nor is it very likely given Google's strong emphasis on performance and scalability. The idea is simply to create doubt that a given query was generated by a human, not by the robot. The &quot;quality&quot; of the synthetic queries is much more important than their quantity.

Still, the extra traffic just might have the effect of encouraging
Google to adopt a stronger privacy policy. Not that I'd place much
stock in that, of course (see below.)

3) Routing queries through anon proxies will provide some protection
   for the technological elite who understand such things.  They will
   not protect the average user, who most likely doesn't understand
   the risks and issues, and will never use such proxies, even
   assuming that they were trivial to use.

I wish I had a nickel for everything I've been told &quot;the average user&quot; would never understand, need or be able to use. Back in the 1970s, the &quot;average user&quot; would never understand, need or be able to use a personal computer. In the 1980s, the &quot;average user&quot; would never need a local area network in his home. In the early 1990s, the &quot;average user&quot; would never understand or need the Internet. And so on.

It is no more necessary that the &quot;average user&quot; understand how an
anonymizing Google proxy works to use it effectively than to
understand the fields in TCP/IP packet headers. The whole idea of
civilization and commerce is that many people can benefit from
specialized knowledge and skills that they themselves lack. The open
source movement and the Internet itself have certainly demonstrated

Personally, I prefer the anonymizing proxy over the random query
generator. The proxy is likely to be more effective, and it generates
no extra load. I mention the generator mainly to be complete. My
point is that there *are* technical defenses against potential
privacy abuses, and we can implement them ourselves instead of
naively demanding that Google respect our privacy against their own
commercial interests.

And even if Google were completely honest, they would still be
subject to Patriot Act abuses that we would never know about.

The sad fact is that &quot;national security&quot; has become the root password
to the Constitution. The only effective defense against a &quot;rooted&quot;
system is not to put any sensitive information in it in the first


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