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Google Watch Watch
Who watchers the watchers?
kpaul




msg:52278
 8:32 pm on Aug 8, 2003 (gmt 0)

Found a site/page about the Google Watch site being talked about in another 'watchdog' type site in PopDex today.

Yes, the Google Watch Watch.

Anyone in line to see what is behind this newcomer's site and become the Google-Watch-Watch-Watch?

Ahhh, gotta love the Internet ;)

 

GoogleGuy




msg:52279
 10:47 pm on Aug 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

That's pretty funny, kpaul. How controversial does a watchdog site have to be for someone else to form a new watchdog site just to keep an eye on it? :)

Off to go see if it's any good..

DVDBurning




msg:52280
 11:17 pm on Aug 10, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm fairly certain that you will like it GG. It's a pretty fair assessment of the google-watch situation.

Are you sure you didn't write it? :)

Kackle




msg:52281
 12:29 am on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Fair assessment? Maybe to many Google cultists on WebmasterWorld.

The author of this site says, "Why did I make it? Because I love Google. Google is a great company, a good company, a responsible company. They are in a position of tremendous power and they do not abuse it. They never sacrifice their vision for the sake of making a buck." (Click on the link on the bottom.)

And so on. While GoogleGuy was the first to gleefully announce that hatchet-job Salon piece on WebmasterWorld nearly year ago, and GoogleGuy was the first to come up with the idea of the google-watch-watch.org domain on June 27 on WebmasterWorld (the domain was registered on July 1), and while the co-founder of Pyra, now a Google employee, linked to it in his A-list blog, I doubt that Google had anything to do with it. Even Google is more competent than that site.

By the way, the Google Watch folks own other "watch" domains, so if you hate Google Watch, then think about grabbing the domains yahoo-watch-watch.org, alexa-watch-watch.org, and microsoft-watch-watch.org. They're all available.

bnc929




msg:52282
 1:58 am on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm the owner of the site in question.

Thanks for the compliments. I've gotten a slew of emails from people giving me "atta'boys" on the site. Not one piece of negative mail yet-- well just one but can you guess from who?

I just added a little bit more to the contact page clarifying why I like Google. Mr. Brandt has been quoting that part all over and I thought I was coming off a little obsessed. Like I have a shrine in my house with printouts of all the holiday logos, or I hide in the bushes by the Googleplex taking snapshots.

I, of course, don't work for Google. I do live in Lawrence Page's home town but thats about as close as a connection as there is. I'm just a fan.

GoogleGuy




msg:52283
 2:09 am on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Cultists? Kackle, you sound just like the person who runs the googlewatch web site. ;)

dougb




msg:52284
 2:43 am on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google-watch.org is just lame. It's practically one big straw man argument, filled with conspiracy theories that are easily shot down. And cheesy graphics.

That said, I think it's really good that Google is being closely watched by skeptics. I hope some better google-watch sites emerge some day, if for no other reason than that Google's a for-profit company with a staggering level of influence on the information we're exposed to. And there are many subtler but more significant bits of evil to gripe about -- especially this year -- than what Brandt publishes.

Kackle




msg:52285
 3:51 am on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think Google Watch is a useful site. You may not like the graphics, but there is more than opinion and cheesy graphics on the site.

1) You can see what's inside of Google's cookie.

2) You can find out how to set your Google preferences even when you have Google's cookie disabled (Google won't tell you how to do this).

3) You can use an anonymous, ad-free proxy to search Google and Alltheweb. No cookies, and no search terms are recorded anywhere on the planet that can be traced to you. The Google Watch access logs with your IP number are destroyed after seven days.

4) You can look up the block owner for an IP number, or scan a rather large list of block owners by one or two keywords, to see the IP blocks they own. (I'm not aware of any other search on the web that allows this second function.)

I suspect that all this took a little bit of programming. There's a graph on the site that shows it gets 8600 page views a day. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but the site is taken seriously by journalists -- except for that Salon journalist a year ago. But wait a minute -- didn't that same Salon journalist just write a piece about the "Google backlash"? I wonder where he got that idea from? Very bizarre!

Agreed, the site needs some company. There are plenty of WebmasterWorld folks who are willing to anonymously criticize a particular site as cheesy, and then add that the idea behind it is good and we need more than one Google-watching site out there, but don't ask me to get involved because it's much easier to just anonymously dismiss someone as having a cheesy site, and besides, I'm too busy selling widgets and enjoying my Google referrals. Now that is what I consider a good definition of "cheesy."

dougb




msg:52286
 3:19 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Eh? Who's the anonymous one here? I think you'll find it's not me.

You're right, it isn't really pertinent that google-watch.org has cheesy graphics. I think it's lame *mostly* because it puts forth rabidly irrational theories of the Google-hires-people-from-the-NSA-therefore-they-spy-on-us variety. And other things, like the infinite cookie gripe, have been answered repeatedly (in published interviews with Eric Schmidt [alwayson-network.com], for example) but you'll find no mention of that on google-watch. It doesn't even try to be even-handed.

swerve




msg:52287
 3:40 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

And other things, like the infinite cookie gripe, have been answered repeatedly (in published interviews with Eric Schmidt, for example)

Thanks for the link, dougb. I skimed the article, but I could not find the part where Schmidt addresses the infinite nature of the Google cookie. I found one question relating to cookies, but there was no mention of the infinite nature by either party. Perhaps I missed the part where Schmidt answers the infinite cookie 'gripe' - can you point me to the Part #, question #? Thanks.

I have always wondered why the Google cookie expires in 2038, since it is only meant to save user preferences. If this has been answered by Google repeatly, any links to such answers would be appreciated. Thanks again.

GoogleGuy




msg:52288
 5:23 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hey, swerve, the most comprehensive analysis I know of is Danny Sullivan's articles. He talked to both Daniel Brandt and Sergey Brin about privacy issues before he wrote his analysis. I think he also ran things by a lawyer with cyberprivacy experience (TRUSTe board, WiredSafety, etc). He wrote a longer piece for his subscribers, I think, but two public pieces about cookies/privacy and search engines are here:
[searchenginewatch.com...]
[searchenginewatch.com...]

Kackle




msg:52289
 5:52 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have always wondered why the Google cookie expires in 2038, since it is only meant to save user preferences. If this has been answered by Google repeatedly, any links to such answers would be appreciated.

The cookie is not meant to save user preferences. That's Google's cover story. Google is not the only culprit [blogs.law.harvard.edu] in this regard. Other search engines do the same thing. They claim that you need to have cookies enabled if you want to save user preferences.

Nonsense. All Google, or any other search engine, has to do is to save your preferences by offering you a custom bookmark, and then you use this bookmark to pass the preferences to Google when you do a search. You don't need a cookie. I cannot believe how GoogleGuy and Danny Sullivan get away with pretending innocence in this regard.

Well, actually I can. Sullivan is under contract to Jupitermedia, an e-commerce empire that carries lots of ads from search engines. Frequently you will be reading something on Sullivan's site, and then look up and see an ad from the company he's talking about. Sullivan is an astroturf publicist. (I think he recently overhauled his site design so that his conflict of interest is a little less obvious by now.)

Even if you did need a cookie to save preferences, you wouldn't need to have it expire in 2038.

And you definitely don't need a unique ID number in the cookie to use it for preferences.

Google wants to track you with your own ID number until year 2038. There is no other possible explanation or excuse for their cookies. They tell you it's for user preferences because it's not nice to tell someone that we intend to track your searches until year 2038, so please enable your cookies. Go to the Google Watch site and find out how you can enable certain Google preferences and still disable your Google cookie.

Chndru




msg:52290
 6:40 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Go to the Google Watch site

Hmm...Kackle sure likes google-watch. Am i the only one seeing a connection?

natural




msg:52291
 6:48 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

gg, awesome links. i had never really considered much about google's privacy policies. i imagine that advertisers, more than anybody, would be salivating over any of the data that google collects; specifically the large media companies. the gov't conspiracy theories are a crack-up. the internet loves nuts.

natural




msg:52292
 6:51 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

btw: wasn't 2038 the 'fix' year for y2k compliance? meaning that systems that required an update for y2k were set to need another update at 2038? seems like a pretty nice number. i'll be 68 then, and could give a rat's ass if google knows what i searched for in 2003.

anybody got a match? all that straw(man) would make a great fire.

Kackle




msg:52293
 7:28 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

There's a Unix/Linux overflow in January, 2038, which is the maximum number of seconds since January 1, 1970 for a signed four-byte integer. This signed int is used in most "C" time functions. So a cookie that expires on January 17, 2038 is a maximum cookie. So what's your point?

It's not the expiration date as much as it's the unique ID in the cookie. And as far as the expiration date goes, it's not how old you will be, or how many different browsers you are likely to use between now and then.

Google's 2038 expiration date for cookies was a red flag from day one at Google. It announced to the world that they are completely insensitive to privacy issues. This was at a time when all federal websites in the U.S. were prohibited from using persistent cookies altogether.

Google's little announcement with their cookie expiration date was a thumb in the eye of the consumer privacy movement. Everything they've done since then shows that this thumb was no accident.

natural




msg:52294
 7:33 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

do you also think that serge was the '2nd shooter'?

dougb




msg:52295
 7:36 pm on Aug 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Swerve: I was referring to part 2 of the interview, where the interviewer asks whether the "master cookie" is used to build up long-term search profiles. Schmidt says "We don't do this" in four different increasingly exasperated ways. It's true that he doesn't explain exactly why they chose the implementation they did. But maybe Google shouldn't have to, as long as they fully disclose how they use the data they collect.

Kackle: The custom bookmark idea might be a plausible alternative to cookies for some web sites, but it seems like it would be a really a bad user experience for personalizing Google. There are a lot of ways users want to reach Google other than by selecting a bookmark (clicking on a link, using the toolbar, typing google.com into the address bar, etc.) and users want their settings to apply no matter how they get there.

bnc929




msg:52296
 4:20 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think that educated Internet users aren't that concerned about cookies. As a webmaster and Internet user since 1993 I have my privacy settings in IE turned all the way off.

A cookie cannot identify you by anything other than your IP address. Depending on where you surf from your IP address might be shared by dozens or more people. In the end its just a string a numbers that no one can connection with your name without contacting your ISP which would probably require a subpeona.

The only real danger with tracking cookies is that someone with physical access to your computer (or a hacker with a trojan) could see which naughty porn sites you've visited.

I like how Google remembers my preferences (and I don't have to type [google.com...] to do it). I like how Amazon, Ebay, and various forums remember my login information. My passwords, my name, my credit card information, is not stored in a cookie. In almost all cases it's either going to be just a user id of some sort, most likely a number.

I hate it when my computer crashes and my cookies get erased and I need to make them all over again.

The only cookies I don't like are those with raisins in them.

Kackle




msg:52297
 5:16 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is a very slippery slope you're on. Besides, no one has addressed the fact that preferences can be set using cookies, without a unique ID in the cookie, so how can the unique ID be justified by Google?

Consider:

1. The Patriot Act allows federal authorities to obtain subpoenas without a showing of probable cause. The judge is required to sign the order.

2. Ever heard of "sneak and peek" warrants where the feds come in while you aren't home, and don't have to notify you that they were there? If I were a fed, I'd grab the Google cookie ID off of the hard disk, and take it to Google for a list of your search terms. Google won't comment, but it's safe to assume that they hand it over because they don't have any policies to the contrary. Besides, the feds can come with a subpoena, which would leave Google with no choice. If Google didn't keep all that data, there wouldn't be a problem and Google could just tell the feds they don't have any data. But Google keeps everything, and it's illegal to lie to the feds. Many librarians are now destroying data on who borrowed what books, because they have a conscience when it come to privacy issues. But Google saves everything. They have no conscience and no policies.

3. Don't assume that dozens of people share your IP number, as the trend is in the other direction. Many broadband connections have an IP number that is hard to shake. You have to power down for 40 hours to shake the IP number assigned by Time Warner in my location, which is a major city. Otherwise it can stick with you for a year or more. Yes, there is a looming IP number shortage in other countries, but in the U.S. we have lots of numbers available, because they got assigned before other countries became involved with the Internet. With the new IP numbering standard, not yet implemented, the numbers will get really sticky, and all manner of devices will start coming off of assembly lines with their own world-unique IP number.

4. Many ISPs will hand over records with just a fax from someone calling themselves an authority. eBay bragged that they cooperate with law enforcement on request in this manner.

5. If you have broadband, and send an email to Google (like signing up for News Alerts, or registering to remove a page, etc.), then they've got your email address associated with your IP number. It's pretty easy to find a name then. Of course they also have your IP number already associated with your cookie, because they record both along with your search terms. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Google automatically grabbed the originating IP number from the headers in any emails that they get, and filed that in an email database.

Powdork




msg:52298
 5:32 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

It wouldn't surprise me at all if Google automatically grabbed the originating IP number from the headers in any emails that they get, and filed that in an email database.
I would be surprised if they didn't. It's information and they are supposed to be pretty good with information.
dougb




msg:52299
 5:56 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I would be surprised if they didn't. It's information and they are supposed to be pretty good with information.

One would think so.

Perplexed




msg:52300
 6:10 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Why on earth is everyone concerned about a cookie expiring in 2038? There is nobody on this board using a computer that will still be around in 2038 so why worry about it

Kackle




msg:52301
 6:50 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Here's why:

If Google won't set the expiration date to something more in line of what used to be common -- a five or ten year cookie -- then Google will never, ever take out that ID number that they use for tracking, but which plays no role in setting user preferences.

Resetting the expiration date to something reasonable would be good public relations, and would be trivial, and would have zero effect on their operations.

If they won't reset the expiration date, then they will never forsake the ID number. The expiration date is a barometer of Google's public-sector consciousness. The geeks at Google don't have any public-sector consciousness, and don't care about privacy issues.

Their cookie screams this from every rooftop, for those who have been following Internet privacy issues for eight years. If the ID number was taken out of the cookie, the expiration date wouldn't be interesting at all, because the cookie couldn't be used for tracking.

I think most non-webmasters understand this. When they hear that Google's cookie expires in 2038 and has an ID number, they ask, "What are they up to at the Googleplex?" It just sounds freaky. Even if webmasters can't wrap their minds around privacy issues, journalists sure can. The 2038 cookie is a public relations disaster for Google.

It is pretty silly -- but the silliness is on Google's part, because they are so oblivious about how to respond intelligently to public opinion.

dannysullivan




msg:52302
 7:05 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

Kackle writes:

Nonsense. All Google, or any other search engine, has to do is to save your preferences by offering you a custom bookmark, and then you use this bookmark to pass the preferences to Google when you do a search. You don't need a cookie. I cannot believe how GoogleGuy and Danny Sullivan get away with pretending innocence in this regard.

Kackle, if you actually read the article I wrote on the subject, you would have come to this part of the verdict on Google's use of cookies:

User preferences can also be stored in a cookie that does not have a user ID, something a recent survey found that Teoma does. Perhaps Google might allow users to accept this as an alternative to having to simply reject a cookie outright.

I fail to see where I'm pretending innocence in this. In fact, it's the opposite. I say this is something Google ought to consider.

As for this:

Sullivan is under contract to Jupitermedia, an e-commerce empire that carries lots of ads from search engines. Frequently you will be reading something on Sullivan's site, and then look up and see an ad from the company he's talking about. Sullivan is an astroturf publicist. (I think he recently overhauled his site design so that his conflict of interest is a little less obvious by now.)

I don't sell the ads. I don't care who is advertising. I'm very fortunate to have a site that's supported by members. As for the site redesign, I think it probably made some of the ads more obvious. And for anyone concerned, I have a long-standing Disclosure page where I reiterate that I have no relationship to the ads: [searchenginewatch.com...] Whether anyone chooses to believe that is up to the individual, of course.

And for this:

Google's 2038 expiration date for cookies was a red flag from day one at Google. It announced to the world that they are completely insensitive to privacy issues.

Well, the expiration date really doesn't matter. You aren't going to have a computer that lasts until 2038 -- as soon as you change your computer, your former unique ID is lost. Even Google Watch really doesn't care about the expiration date -- is that the cookie has a unique ID that's the main issue, as my article points out:

"Getting rid of the unique ID is the most important thing. The expiration date is a second indicator of how sensitive they are to privacy issues, even without the unique ID. But the expiration date issue is close to trivial once the unique ID is gone," Brandt said.

Overall, search privacy is a serious matter. Google Watch deserves credit for reawakening it as an issue for many people. Unfortunately, some of the arguments it has used have been a stretch or simply wrong, in my assessment.

natural




msg:52303
 7:14 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

public opinion, or YOUR opinion?

face it. 5 years, 10 years, or 35 years. what's the difference? more importantly, other than the paranoid geeks, who a) notices at all or b) cares at all?

what could possibly be gained by tracking search queries to a human being? i search for crazy stuff all of the time, because i read about it somewhere, or it's brought-up in a conversation, or i'm just flat-out curious. search queries would not be strong enough to convict anyone of anything ever, period. your isp collects more incriminating information, as does your phone company, your cell phone company, your credit card companies, your bank...and the list goes on.

just one more thing to get behind. here's an idea; instead of worrying about google keeping the data, why not focus on making sure that we have a gov't that respects our right to privacy? a gov't that doesn't go sneaking around? if gov't wants you, they're going to get you. a cookie that expires in 2038 isn't going to make a bit of difference. how many times do you reformat your computer, thereby erasing the cookie anyway? can't you clear cookies from your computer (i can)? do you really think that you'll be using your current computer, or even your current isp, in 5, 10 or 15 years, let alone 35?

you seem to have a lot of energy, enthusiasm and passion. ever wonder if you're avoiding success and happiness by chasing those things that you perceive as a threat to you, even though rationally they aren't, and therefore staying committed to fear and frustration?

<shrug>

i'm not a simple person, but i just don't 'get' the gripe here. i loathe an intrusive gov't, but 35 year cookies (or even 100 year cookies) and session id's at a search engine just seem to be irrational perceptions of evil that allow some people play the victim role, or scare other people for absolutely no reason.

my $.02

hetzeld




msg:52304
 7:26 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have always wondered why the Google cookie expires in 2038, since it is only meant to save user preferences. If this has been answered by Google repeatedly, any links to such answers would be appreciated.

Why 2038? easy...

Take the january, 1st 1970 date - known by Unix guys as "the epoch". Add to this data as many seconds as can be fitted in a 4 byte signed integer (2147483647), and you'll have a date sometime in 2038. The exact date is January 18th 2038 at 9:14PM and 7 seconds Central Standard Time :)

That date would be the same for all websites sending a cookie expiring in the longest possible period of time.
It is also the date where the old 32bit unix boxes will face the date bug (if unpatched).
There's nothing wrong with that... and it's not a "Google feature" ;)

Dan

Powdork




msg:52305
 7:31 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

It is pretty silly -- but the silliness is on Google's part, because they are so oblivious about how to respond intelligently to public opinion.
I have yet to see any evidence of this alleged grass roots movement against Google.
This is off the cuff but my first impression is that us webmasters would have a much greater grasp of the privacy issue simply because of our involvement with the web and BECAUSE WE WOULD ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT A COOKIE IS.

If you don't want people to see you naked you should wear clothes in public. If you don't know you're naked then it doesn't really matter does it?

Regards,
7809b1e46d7d114a

Perplexed




msg:52306
 9:45 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

"It is pretty silly -- but the silliness is on Google's part, because they are so oblivious about how to respond intelligently to public opinion. "

I can think of a lot of things I ought to be worrying about Kackle but I really dont think this is one of them.

James_Dale




msg:52307
 10:15 am on Aug 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I dunno. I think there is room for reasonable doubt over intentions here. I believe the IDs can (and will) be used negatively at some point - it's bound to happen sooner or later. David Icke would love this stuff :)

I read the other week that a certain brand of razorblades triggers a camera, so that curious shoppers in supermarkets have their photo taken when they pick them up.

The 'Big Brother' thing gets more intrusive (and scarier) all the time. If noone cares about it, carte blanche to the perpetrators.

This 37 message thread spans 2 pages: 37 ( [1] 2 > >
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