8 oktober 2009


Creeps... Google scans ALL - plus some!


   "The account of those salutary conferences is given by Burnet in a book entitled, Some Passages of the Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester, which the critick ought to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the saint for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to offer him an abridgment."
   -- Dr. Johnson, in the Life of Rochester
   The above link is to Google's scan of the book -
    and for a surprising and somewhat creepy detail
    in it see the text that follows or the last link.

Sections                                                                           Note on the links

1. Moral and philosophical background
2. Google gives me the creeps ....   (link to creepy picture)
3. ... by way of the Earl of Rochester
4. The moral of it all

     P.S. See and think for yourself

     P.P.S. The facts of the matter

1. Moral and philosophical background

As I have been explaining over the last week, I am concerned with computer security, having lost my last computer by a hack, and having run into the incompetence of both my provider xs4all and the McAfee software they provide to protect my computer, and I also happen to have a somewhat aristocratic view of mankind, which amounts to the beliefs that, firstly,

Stupidity and egoism are the roots of all vice
   -- Buddha

which is also what most of the religious prophets and mystics taught, if perhaps in other words, such as those of the Protestant Heidelberger Katechismus (the link is to "On The Pleasure of Hating" by William Hazlitt on my site, which is about the ordinary failings and weaknesses of ordinary men)

Men are prone to mischief, to every good work reprobate.

and secondly, that I hold the last may - in view of human history - hold for most, it doesn't hold for all (so far, that is: See my On a fundamental problem in ethics and morals), and thirdly, that I myself am an atheist logical philosopher, who has a liking for some classical satirical writers who thought likewise, and specifically Nicollo Machiavelli, Etienne de la Boetie, Samuel Butler (of Hudibras), Thomas Hobbes, John Wilmot 2nd Earl of Rochester, Bernard Mandeville, Jonathan Swift, and in modern days George Orwell and Alexander Zinoviev.

All this was by way of background - and I will return to the writers I mentioned in Nederlog, and also have written about them there, whereas the above links are to works of these thinkers on my site - for my concerns in this piece are basically with the safety-risks of browsing the internet, Google's omnipresence on the net, and Google's plans with books and the internet.

2. Google gives me the creeps...

I am coming to the point, which in this piece is basically an illustration that you find below, which needs a little introduction concerning Google and concerning Rochester.

You may have found some quotations from Rochester (as I will call him, for brevity's sake) in Nederlogs of the last week, and you may find a fine site about him, with a selection of his poems here

to find out whether he is also to your taste.

He is to mine, and having the internet with ADSL it turns out to be easy to find stuff about him that I would never have been able to get through a library in pre-internet days, in this case notably Rochester's biography by Charles Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, who is supposed to have converted him on his deathbed.

As dr. Johnson wrote in his Life of Rochester (the link is to an article on Johnson and Rochester at on-literature.com):

At this time he [that is: Rochester in his last days when dying very painfully - MM] was led to an acquaintance with Dr. Burnet, to whom he laid open, with great freedom, the tenour of his opinions, and the course of his life, and from whom he received such conviction of the reasonableness of moral duty, and the truth of Christianity, as produced a total change both of his manners and opinions. The account of those salutary conferences is given by Burnet in a book entitled, Some Passages of the Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester, which the critick ought to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the saint for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to offer him an abridgment.

The present "critick" - who also likes and admires dr. Johnson - googled this, and rapidly found that Google, that has been scanning enormous amounts of old books to put them on the internet, ostensibly in the interest of all, indeed had scanned this book, and had placed the scan on the internet.

So I downloaded it, found that it is essentially a photographic reproduction of the book's front, back and inside pages, reasonably well done and useful, except for the facts that (i) one doesn't have the text but pictures of it (so there is no easy textual copying) and that (ii) Google has imposed itself on EVERY page by adding to the end of each page at the righthand side this:

And yes, it's a bit vague, but it definitely is there, again and again and again at every page, and I think it is intrusive, irritating, and also appears far too much like a - much swathed, tacit, actually judicial - sort of (implicit, future, partial) ownership claim by Google.

This they will probably deny, and instead insist that they serve the interest of the public by making available all manner of ancient texts, freely also, that were not available at all, or were only available to few, and that usually also only with some trouble and considerable patience - and I am speaking here of university libraries in the old paper-only days, in which academics could ask for old and rare tomes, and sometimes get them, eventually, after a long wait, and with some restictions.

This last contention I would not deny, and my problem with Google is not so much that at present they do not serve the public, including me, for clearly they do, and also not so much that at present they do not provide the public with an excellent search tool for the internet, for they do.

My problems with Google - that you can find out for yourself by browsing with Firefox with some Add-Ons that relate to JavaScript, such as NoScript and Ghostery - are, first, that it turns out to be everywhere, even on my (supposedly) very private webmail-pages that my provider provides, presumably for my personal safety, but "Google Analytics" is there too, as if this is self-evidently necessary, moral and normal; and second that I am not a believer in the goodness and  sincerity of mankind at large (there are some exceptions, it is true, but these will not work in large firms, politics, religion or the ordinary popular media, and indeed will not for moral and intellectual reasons - or so I hold), and certainly not in the real morality of commercial firms, such as Google, Microsoft, Sun and so on (and I wrote "real" because they all pay copywriters to write plausible lies to convince you and me of their good intentions, morality and what they tend to call "our privacy policy").

In fact, I hold one should look upon politicians and corporate firms alike, as said so well by Lord Acton in these general terms

All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

and as regards Google, I am afraid that they already have far more power than is good for anybody who is not a perfect saint or son of God (and the folks of Google, who no doubt are very clever, are at least as certainly no saints), and my surfing with some indications of what happens hidden for me in my personal browser, when I do not take steps such as installing Add-Ons to find out, convinced me that Google is spying in my privacy - my actions, my searches, my interests, my values, indeed my private mail box - in ways I do find highly objectionable, since this is and ought to be none of their or anybody's business.

Now again I suppose the good folks at Google, who undoubtedly have very clever lawyers and copywriters also, will smile benignly and tell me that my worries are needless; that their aims are noble and praiseworthy; that indeed they work and deliver, do so all for free, for you and me, equitably; and that anyway they have the best and most reasonable and clearly well-intentioned privacy policy.

And again I don't say no, and would in fact say in reply just two things:

Read Lord Acton's diagnosis again; consider some human history; and do some hours or days of browsing with Firefox and its Add-Ons NoScript and Ghostery, so as to find out what is found out about you, if you don't prevent it (and possibly even then, for the good folks at Google are clever, and what one can undo with a computer, one can do with a computer).

Also, note it is not just Google, though Google is by far the most present behind my back if I don't watch, and also if I do: ALL commercial firms seem to have found out by now that, as things are at present legally not at all properly set up, they can in fact spy into your personal details to their hearts content, and virtually without any legal limitation, if only they can muster the technical computer expertise.

3. .... by way of the Earl of Rochester

I have arrived at the trigger of this piece, which I hit upon when reading to the pdf-copy of Bishop Burnet's text about Rochester, that Google had so kindly scanned and found for me. (It's under the link, and see my P.P.S.)

Here is the page that follows after the scanned paper page 135, with Google's page number 144, that starts very appropriately thus:

Some diversion, mirth, and pleasure is all they can promise themselves; but to obtain this, how many evils are they to suffer!


Here you see The Mighty Hand Of Google at work, dear reader, and if you do not find it at least a tiny bit creepy, your heart is of stone or your mind is mighty cloudy.

Also, the next Google-page is like this, and clearly this is a mistake also, for the same pages also occur in the file properly scanned, and without The Mighty Hand Of Google visibly at work, except for the ever present nice reminder by Big Brother that, happily for you, and in Everyone's Best Interests, it all has been

Just like the sites you visit, the bookmarks you make, and including your very personal mail webpages, in fact, whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not (*).

4. The moral of it all

Actually, I find this more than a little creepy and scary, and my own thoughts about it, in part, are here: A new internet is needed + 3 special reasons why, where more detailed links are provided for those who want to try out Firefox with the Add-Ons I mentioned.

Otherwise, for the moment I have no more to offer in this context, except my strong recommendation to you to install the latest Firefox, which is very easy and literally just two or three minutes work with a fast internet-connection; install NoScript and Ghostery, and possibly also some JavaScript debugging Add-On such as Firebug, and see for yourself what happens behind your back and in secret while you're browsing the internet and looking around as if you were a private person using a private tool in your personal life and space.

No way! "Big Brother watches you" too - and there is very little you can do about it at present, except to see what He may see of what you see: all of it, and He records it also, in His Big Database, possibly for Eternity, and to sell to marketeers or hand over, if nicely asked or forced, to some secret service or police, in case some government may decide that you are a terrorist, or at least not a nice person, in their view.

P.S. See and think for yourself

I am not asking you to blindly agree or indeed blindly disagree with me - I am asking you to see for yourself how you are tracked and traced. Here are two final observations for the moment.

First, to install Firefox is a breeze, and it is very intuitive and easy in its use, but it is true that NoScript and other Add-Ons do require a little knowledge of computers and computing, and need a little time to get used to, for what you will very probably find are two things: Most of the sites you visit have some scripts running, and most of these do not run as they did before the scripts were blocked by NoScript, and indeed may not work at all as you expect them to act.

This is indeed because NoScript blocks scripts, but fortunately you can quite easily tweak NoScript so that it does so selectively or not at all, or not at all conditionally. This just takes some getting used to, and is mostly quite instructive as well (except if you are in a great hurry, and desire a well-known site to work as you were used to, before you knew part of its charm and ease came from scripts, that also might do other things than contribute to your ease of browsing).

Second, I do not blame Google. It is true that I do not trust them, but then I know a lot of history and know Lord Acton, and it is also true that I do not agree with them, for they might have chosen to be much more clear, up front and explicit about the tracking they do, using your browser and your time, money and your computer (for most of what happens for their tracking and tracing of you happens by way of your computer's processor), and they might simply ask you and me whether we agree to all that tracking and tracing, or rather choose to do without.

In fact, the reason I do not blame Google is mostly that they, just like the bankers at Goldman Sachs, Merill Lynch etetera, simply use the opportunities deregulated or unregulated trading, tracing and tracking offer these days, which is, at least in principle, either fair or at least allowed because the internet is as deregulated as the banking world was prior to this year, and mostly still is, because politicians have weak spines and/or other interests than they publicly allow for.

Google is in it for the money, and technically they do a fine job, while they also may - still - be mostly fired by a considerable amount of idealism, though at least part of that seems to me to be posturing or advertising as well.

Personally, I don't like it and also am afraid for it, for - whatever the intents, purposes and morals of the folks at Google - you and they should be aware that EVERYTHING some commercial firm like Google finds out about you, secretly, partially in secret, or wholly up front, WILL be accessible by whatever government (or other party) that can pressure them into handing over the data.

And if I were to live in a country where the police routinely tortures dissidents - and these days there are quite a few of these - I would be very afraid of all tracking and tracing of my computer, browser, email, webpages etc. and not because I am afraid of the nice and clever folks of Google, who do it for money and to help people get a more useful internet, but because I am afraid of the secret police in my country, who may use what Google has found out about me against me, whether or not the folks at Google agree, and indeed also whether or not they know.

P.P.S. The facts of the matter

The above picture has not been  manufactured by me: I have found it just as is in the file Google supplied that contains Burnet's text as described (a text that indeed is well worth reading, as dr. Johnson said), as I found it on Oct 4, 2009, and stored it 13.09 local Dutch time.

The only things I have done is read the text; gotten somewhat nauseous as I suddenly hit upon the above creepy picture; copied it in a screengrab; and write this piece about it.

Also, the screengrab is of the said page as it is displayed in Adobe 8 when set to reading the file the page comes from in Full Screen view. But for these things, I am just reporting what I found, while adding my own comments.


Note on the links: Links are underlined; the bold links are to English pieces, and the non-bold links to Dutch pieces; and all links except for a few to Google or Ealaside Haas's Rochester pages are to my site.

(*) That is: UNLESS (1) you know a LOT about computers and the internet and (2) you have spend rather a LOT of time to tweak your computer in such a way that the chances of spying on it and you are minimized. The vast majority - 99% at least - has not done this, and wouildn't know how to do so properly if they wanted to. And further see my Musings on computing and a new internet.

Maarten Maartensz

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