Tuesday, August 4, 2009

google phone app for CIA: iSurveillance

In the NPR program All Things Considered, August 3rd 2009, they reported on the Google CEO who has just recently quit the Apple Inc. board. They explain in the report that Google is now focusing on researching and developing their own operating software, mostly to rival Windows, but also to further develop their cell phone development. Of coarse the report and subsequent interview focused on the technological advancements and business side of this former alliance of sorts: Google helped develop apps for the iPhone which it is now developing products that are in direct competition with resulting in an industrial conflict of interests. As is also explained in the the difference between how Google apps work versus the way that Apple apps work. The difference is this: the Apple apps are part of your actual device, computer, phone, what have you, and the Google apps are housed on the server. What the interview and report failed to mention is the ease of access for apps which are kept on a server.

Having barely used and iPhone or an app for that matter, I can only speculate on the amount of say sensitive personal information may be incorporated into some of these conveniences. It seems to that a lot of these are either surrogate devices such as a calculator or compass, rendered digitally and others are more entertainment based, more like a video game or some frivolous digital representation of a squeeky toy for dogs or something along those lines. I am sure that there are many more that I am not aware of some with real life applications surpassing my biased assumptions that the majority are purely commodified accessories, available at no cost or for a nominal fee, to enhance the already alluring features of the amazing hand held devices that we find ourselves being given the option to purchase. However!!, the difference in where these apps are situated and operate have huge implications for surveillance for the governments on the globe. A company like Google, or Apple for that matter, does not reach the omnipresence that it has by sheer ambition. It is granted such positioning by conceding to act and fund in a matter that directly ties into the agenda of the governing party of which the business is found operating in. As Google has already demonstrated in China, it is willing to pander to governments, regardless of affiliation and human rights (and wrongs) history in order to break a market for a profit. Arguably the Chinese market is too big and growing with such virility that any business if given the opportunity could only concede in order to get a piece of the sweet and sour pie, so-to-speak.

Now, having mentioned the potential lack of personal information such as social security #'s or addresses of the app users, there is more subtle and potent information in which the government can harness to use as a method of control over the masses. This information is of our behavioral impulses in using devices that we are more intimate with than any human being during unregulated and unrestricted moments of personal isolation whether being physically isolated or virtually isolated while encapsulated in an app while killing time on the subway or bus. It is also the most direct and candid source of information about our interests and ideologies that the governments, advertisers, and corporations (the dividing lines of these three are becoming increasingly blurred or erased all together) have in order to continually inflict subversive and possibly subliminal control over our consumeristic behavior, if you will.

These intricacies of digital commodity may not be on the package of the product which is funneled to the world consumer bank, but just as cloned livestock meat that is either now or in the very near future in U.S. supermarkets should be labeled as such (a no-brainer of maintaining corporate ethics, or is that an oxymoron), so too should the location of where apps are being operated and the accessibility of government to this information and the degree of compliance that Google is playing into governmental interest.....yes, I do see the irony of using a Google run service such as Blogger to post this fleeting call for awareness and caution.

NPR: All Things Considered. Google CEO Quits Apple Board. August 3, 2008.

*after publishing this post I ran across a related article by the venerable Amy Goodman of Democracy Now: Free Speech vs. Surveillance in the Digital Age.


  1. Myles4.8.09

    Biggs, you raise an interesting and pertinent point. The fact of the matter is is that the applications these days go far beyond that of a digital compass or squeeky dog toy simulator. There are many aplications that do things such as track your shipment, alow you to authorized credit card transactions, and check on your stock investments, to say nothing of personal banking aplications that alow users to do things such as transfer money, check balances, and pay bills. Basicaly, i would argue that while I am un-aware of an aplication that uses a social security number of an individual, I would say that there are MANY apps out there that contain nearly all the data required to steal a person's identity, and while that is not what we're talking about here, it just illustrates how much personal info there reall is in these apps. While i would say that my initial reaction to the post was one of "well, he has a valid point, but sounds all to much like a conspiracy theory to me...." I would say that you are absolutely right that there is potential for the govm't to have acess to this information and use it "unwisely". It's a scary thought, and one that makes me glad I don't own a cell phone! I was a bit confused by your conculsion to the problem though, as far as I can tell you propose that an application make it's users aware of who has access to thier info and where thier info is stored? I.e. have a disclaimer saying "app and info stored on server,not device?" Anyways, great post mate.

  2. Well, let me get started with saying that I read this on an iPhone, and have moved to a laptop to comment, but if I am being tracked, it's already too late.

    There has been some very recent controversy with the iPhone and Apple, because they have the power to reach into your device and delete your applications. So, in all realities, they can access my personal information stored on my phone. And then there is the fact that you can only sync your iPhone with Apple proprietary software, which could be monitoring what you do with your iPhone and sending that information anywhere.
    That recent iPhone controversy did not come alone however, not only can Apple reach into your personal device and take away something that you purchased without refund or even respect of privacy, they have also uncovered and promptly repaired a text messaging bug. How detrimental could that possibly be you ask? They had discovered that code could be introduced to alter the infrastructure of your iPhone via text message. This left a gaping hole for hackers, those out to effect others negatively, the far and few that give all hackers a bad name, as well as, the hackers who are out to "jailbreak" and unlock their iPhones in new and creative ways to get the features that Apple has blocked from its App store. These users are violating the EULA, the terms of service agreed upon by the user in exchange for using their product, however, it has been said in the consumer world for quite sometime that what you have paid for is yours to do with what you please.

    To go back to the original point made, I would like to admit that I have never tried an Android phone, the "iPhone Alternative" that has had its OS developed by Google, and let cell phone companies stick to what they do better, and make the hardware for it.
    The point of the Google OS, Chrome, is to make an easier experience on the user end. It has been developed for the netbook market, and not for power users to edit video and develop web pages. It is a web-based OS, meaning the computer boots directly into a web browser, so if you prefer a different interface, well, this OS is not for you. The other problem that can be seen with this, the real security flaw, is probably going to be at your own personal network. If all of your documents, personal information, and application are based on a server on Google's end, then that information will be passed between your computer and a server somewhere every time you access it. This would be fine, but the grand majority of "average" users don't have a deep technical knowledge of their computer products, thus the popularity that the Chrome OS can have in this market, for its easy of access. This lack of knowledge of the technology can be dangerous at many points, but the most dangerous at this instance is networking. An unencrypted wireless network, our a poorly formated router, can be the end of privacy for a user. This is a scary thought, but the really scary part is that this is common place. Most home wireless networks are wide open and unprotected, and that is where problems are going to occur. You aren't going to lose all your personal information to a scheming group of people with the know-how to make huge problems for you with your personal information, but to your 13 year old neighbor that can access your unencrypted network and pick up all the traffic. The scariest part, is the Enterprise users, people in the business world, using their personal, unprotected networks to deal with other peoples personal information.

    As far as the variety of frivolous apps go, I have to mention the popularity that came with an iPhone app that produced a farting sound, this by far, is the end of society, we just won't see it coming.
    But on the flip side, there is an app that helps doctors monitor their patients off-site, while viewing their charts, medical history, and a slew of other information. So maybe society has a glimpse of hope.

  3. As far as a company reaching the size of Google or Apple, the reason that they please the government so much, is that they are not only a form of control, but a form of monitoring, as you said, a way to observe our impulses. Every move you make in iTunes is monitored, between buying music, watching podcasts, and using your iPod/iPhone, its all being catalogued, for the supposed purpose of "knowing" what you like, and "recommending" to you other products of theirs (which is just built in self-advertisement), but when your information is sent away, who is looking in on that? Is this how the RIAA and MPAA are finding people with media that they claim is stolen? Which leads me to my wonders of why it matters that they sue a couple grandmothers and twelve-year-olds every year, and what part does Apple play in assisting the government, and what part does the RIAA and MPAA actually play in enforcing rights?

    And on the note of control of what we see or what we buy and use in our free time, they have given us enough freedom, via the internet and consumerism, to lull us in the mindset of actually be free to do and buy as we will.

  4. In response to both Myles and Art Zach:

    I am not surprised in such apps like checking personal stock, etc. Such personal sensitive information is probably targeted by some app. inventors as a way to gain easier access to information. Information is, as it is, the most powerful thing that is, in the modern scheme of things.
    The fact that Apple has changed things on personal devices is not too surprising but the ethics of such is of coarse debatable. It made me think of how Amazon has recently come across a lot of rightful scrutiny two fold. One: they went it to people's computers to erase thing that they sold to them. Two: the thing that they sold to them were digital books that they did not have the right to sell. So not only were their ethics in question by selling pirated products, they went in to personal devices to erase things that people had paid for in good faith and are of coarse not reimbursed for their absence. In response, Amazon apologized and said that they would not act the same in a similar situation, not saying anything about their speculative actions on a dissimilar situation, leaving open the possibility of the same acts under differently portrayed pretenses.
    I appreciate the inclusion of useful apps. such as doctor monitoring. That was refreshing.