Should Google Have Kept Internet Searches Private?

Google’s new “Searchtracker” app that allows anyone to see the full record of any other person’s history of Google searches raises some significant ethical issues.

Google never promised privacy to individuals which used its website to search the Internet. But it seems to me there was an implied contract which the app violates. There also seems to be significant potential of harm to reputation, for example if people use the app to identify who has searched on line for pornography or spent hours “googling themselves” in a narcissistic fashion.

At the same time, I could not resist using the new app, including checking on some people I know well. Or at least, I thought I knew them until I saw their search histories. As I myself yielded to temptation, I don’t have the right to judge all the other people who will use the app to find out what their friends, co-workers, spouse and children have been searching for on line.

If you want to draw your own conclusions, the app is available for free download here.

 

Google acts stupid and evil

Google cuts off my email for 24 hours over a changed credit-card billing address.

Did I miss the news story about Google’s merger with Microsoft? “Don’t Be Evil” is a good slogan, but it does subject you to a higher standard than Google seems to want to live up to.

I use GMail. I use it a lot. I get about 100 emails a day, so I’ve come to depend on the feature that brings important and unread messages to the top.

Since I send and receive tons of documents – when you collaborate on writing books, files go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth – the storage usage piles up. Fine. I’m happy to pay Google $20 a year for space on their part of the Cloud.

About ten days ago, a message came in that my year was up and that my storage charge would automatically renew unless I stopped it. But there turns out to have been a hitch: because I’m about to spend five months on the road, I changed the billing address on my credit cards to my work address. So the charge bounced. Stuff happens.

But the notice from Google telling me it had bounced didn’t have “Google Account” as the “from” address. Instead, it came from an anonymous-looking “no-reply.” And the Gmail “important message” filter didn’t treat a message from Google telling me that my email was about to die as important. So I missed it. Stuff happens.

In the meantime, everything kept working, until an hour ago. At that point, two emails appeared (one from Google Account and one from no-reply) telling me that I had now lost my extra storage and couldn’t send or receive email until I fixed the credit card problem. (Not clear whether the people sending me messages I’m not getting know that I’m not getting them.) But just in case I missed the emails, the same notice appeared, in red, at he top of the GMail page.

Naturally, I clicked through, entered the new credit card information, and got back to work.

Not!

The clever folks at Google decided that while the cutoff is immediate and unwarned-of (except in those easily ignorable anonymous emails), the restoration process takes 24 hours. So for $20 I’m out of communication for a day. (Not being able to send is no problem; I have other accounts. But not being able to receive is crippling. That’s aside from the question whether all the stuff that’s now “over quota” is gone for good.)

It’s easy to think of six ways Google could have avoided this: sending the email from Google rather than from no-reply, sorting it into the “Important” folder, putting a warning of the impending cutoff at the top of the Gmail page, processing the order instantly, letting the service keep working for the 24-hour latency period, or having a live customer-service function.

Did I miss the news story about Google’s merger with Microsoft? “Don’t Be Evil” is a good slogan, but it does subject you to a higher standard than Google seems to want to live up to.

Anybody got a Plan B for an email client? Obviously, I can’t ever again put my ability to work at the mercy of these incompetents.

Update It’s 20 hours since Google took my payment and sent me an email confirming that fact. Still no email service. I tried sending myself an email from a different account, and it didn’t bounce back. So the people I’m not answering have no way of knowing that I’m not deliberately ignoring them.