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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Any company that says "Don't be evil" is probably evil

When you come to this site via a Google search, I know what words you typed in.

But what I know pales in comparison to what Google knows. They track everything you do -- even when you aren't using Google. They track your IP address, your search terms, where you go, where you came from, what items you are thinking about buying -- everything.

In all likelihood, Google sends political info to Uncle and his merry team of dataminers. You know how I know that they are spying on you? Because Google also makes it very difficult to sign onto Blogger without divulging a cell phone number. Allegedly, they want that number to help serve people better. The real reason is obvious: If Uncle knows your phone number, your exact physical location can be tracked 24/7, thanks to the miracle of GPS.

When it comes to search engines, you do have options. Three services offer complete privacy. Basically, they route through Google and other search engines, so the results are the same -- perhaps better.

1. DuckDuckGo. They have the cutest interface, and they offer cool goodies. However, they may use tracking cookies to see if you've made a purchase from Amazon. (There's a kickback involved. That's pretty common.)

2. Startpage. This Netherlands-based engine advertises itself as the most private of all.

3. Stealth. The new kid on the block claims to be even more private than Startpage. Obviously, they want to be the go-to search engine for all of the hipster paranoids.

Stealth gives you the option to search images, news stories and videos, as Google does. The image search engine is less useful than Google's: You can't narrow your search by image size (a very helpful option for someone in my line of work), and the links take you directly to the images, not to the web pages using those images.

As an experiment, I tried all three of these alternatives, along with Google. My search term was "Wilfredo Saurin," the name of the con artist whose career we have chronicled in a number of previous posts.

All four engines delivered speedy results, and the results were pretty much the same. Startpage was the slowest. Stealth, surprisingly enough, was as fast as Google.

I'm going to recommend Stealth, which has no ads (for now). Admittedly, I was swayed by Stealth's friendly attitude toward this site. When you type in "Wilfredo Saurin," the fourth link goes to Cannonfire. On Startpage, Cannonfire was the number eight link. On Google, this site came in seventh. Cannonfire did not show up at all on the first page of DuckDuckGo's results.

(But their duck mascot is really cute, so you may want to check them out anyways.)

You definitely will want to read Stealth's reasons for switching from Google. Scary stuff.
Google was the first search engine to use a cookie that expires in 2038. This was at a time when federal websites were prohibited from using persistent cookies altogether. Now it's years later, and immortal cookies are commonplace among search engines; Google set the standard because no one bothered to challenge them. This cookie places a unique ID number on your hard disk. Anytime you land on a Google page, you get a Google cookie if you don't already have one. If you have one, they read and record your unique ID number.
Google records everything they can

For all searches they record the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date, your search terms, and your browser configuration.
Google retains all data indefinitely

Google has no data retention policies. There is evidence that they are able to easily access all the user information they collect and save.
Google won't say why they need this data

Inquiries to Google about their privacy policies are ignored. When the New York Times (2002-11-28) asked Sergey Brin about whether Google ever gets subpoenaed for this information, he had no comment.
Google's toolbar is spyware

With the advanced features enabled, Google's free toolbar for Explorer phones home with every page you surf, and yes, it reads your cookie too. Their privacy policy confesses this, but that's only because Alexa lost a class-action lawsuit when their toolbar did the same thing, and their privacy policy failed to explain this. Worse yet, Google's toolbar updates to new versions quietly, and without asking. This means that if you have the toolbar installed, Google essentially has complete access to your hard disk every time you connect to Google (which is many times a day). Most software vendors, and even Microsoft, ask if you'd like an updated version. But not Google. Any software that updates automatically presents a massive security risk.
Judging from Ninth Circuit precedent on the application of U.S. copyright laws to the Internet, Google's cache copy appears to be illegal.
Google could get hacked. This happens periodically. More often than you would think. People hack into Google though holes in Internet Explorer all the time.
Most search engines use Supercookies to track everything you do, even when you're logged out

We agree with Congress that supercookies are really deceptive, evil, and malicious. Stealth doesn't use any supercookies at all.
For more on supercookies, see here and here. Here are some tips on how to fight them. Don't rely on just one anti-virus suite: Use free anti-malware aps like Super Anti-Spyware, Malwarebytes, Sophos, Ad-Aware, and Emsisoft every day.

It's always a good idea to save (to an external drive) an image of a pristine C drive (with all your programs installed). Revert to that image every few months. This gives you a brand-new IP address. No more immortal cookies or supercookies or uebercookies. Since most of the major anti-virus vendors allow a one-month free trial, you need never pay for the very best protection -- your new IP address and sparkling clean registry give you a new identity.

About Google. Some of you may be wondering if I am not biting the hand that feeds me, since Google owns Blogger, which makes this website possible. Look: I carry their stupid Google ads, which means I feed them. (Yes, I get paid a tiny amount -- tiny, tiny, tiny -- but the company's share is higher.) Google is going to institute a revamped Blogger interface very soon, and the thing is so badly laid-out that I may have to switch to WordPress.

Maybe the company wants to phase out Blogger. With so many people using AdBlock, those little Google ads are no longer bringing in revenue the way they used to.

Worst of all, Google refuses to address the bug that inserts the dreaded phrase at random spots into the text. This strange hiccup occurs only when Firefox users compose a blog post in Blogger. Many of us suspect that Google intentionally created this bug to force a switch to Chrome. Google refuses to admit that the problem even exists, a see-no-evil attitude which pisses me off no end. (The problem does not exist if you revert to Firefox 3.6., incidentally.)

Browsers. Oy. Now we're getting into a whole 'nother set of privacy problems, best addressed in another post.
I used to use Blogger integrated with my website before switching to WordPress. The latter allowed me to run my entire website from one platform, so I've never looked back.
I use a program called CCleaner on a regular basis. It seems to do a pretty good job of clearing out cookies.
Thank you for this, Joseph. And after you look at browsers, could you share what you know about email? I'm thinking I should get off the Gmail bus.
Thank you. I really appreciate this post. Very useful and a shame google has such a wealth of information about me now. But no more.

And ponder this... that creepy google dude.. Mr. "Don't Be Evil Because We Are Watching You While Standing Behind your Back Like some Type of Pycho" dude.... He was from Spooktown Blacksburg Virginia right? Took over google in...wait for it...2001! Took it over from one Russian and one American right? Lot's of data was being sucked up in 2001 allegedly to find the bad guys... sure. About google's ownership? The bad guys of the future will be the ones doing the sucking up of everyone's data in order to do two things:

1. data mine patsies to frame them up for something they didn't do (think phoney FBI terror cases)

2. blackmail them into doing something

Or maybe they've already done it?


those r eyes, not boobs
Much smaller scale evil associated with Google in My Fair City involves giving their landlord a public park (a beloved rooftop garden) without notice or hearings (following the law puts such a crimp in one's style) so that Google can express its culture through bigger floor plates built over the garden. See, for example, for a barebones summary.
i got an "account suspended" message when i tried to use stealth just now
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