By Alec Cope
We Are Change
“Don’t Be Evil” – Google
On June 17th, Google did not announce (the news broke) that the DARPA affiliated corporation has been silently downloading audio listeners onto every computer that has Chrome.
This effectively means that Google sees your privacy as piddly-squat, which does not necessarily come off as a surprise, when one considers Google’s censorship of We Are Change – this very organization as nothing. The website Private Internet Access‘s Rick Falkvinge reported how he came to understand this new policy:
“It looked like just another bug report. “When I start Chromium, it downloads something.” Followed by strange status information that notably included the lines “Microphone: Yes” and “Audio Capture Allowed: Yes”.
Without consent, Google’s code had downloaded a black box of code that – according to itself – had turned on the microphone and was actively listening to your room.”
Without going into detail, Falkvinge describes the nature of open-sourced/free-software and how it relies on transparency and the innovation of many software programmers before being finished as a final product. The transparency allows the user to know that the open-sourced software truly does what it claims to do. Chromium, the open-source version of Google Chrome is supposed to operate the same way. Only Google abused the nature of open-sourced transparency, and by-passed the process that would have prevented this from happening.
Google rationalized that enabling the ability to be eavesdropped via your personal computer was well worth it, because now “Ok, Google” works! Now when you say certain words, Chrome begins searching preliminaries – is it truly worth losing the stability of your privacy though? Obviously, it is Google’s servers that respond to what is being said along with your computer. So a computer black-box was installed, hooked onto a private corporation’s server and now has the ability to eavesdrop on you and Google had no intention to let anyone know about it!
Eventually Google did respond to the accusation, in which Falkvinge “paraphrased”:
“1) Yes, we’re downloading and installing a wiretapping black-box to your computer. But we’re not actually activating it. We did take advantage of our position as trusted upstream to stealth-insert code into open-source software that installed this black box onto millions of computers, but we would never abuse the same trust in the same way to insert code that activates the eavesdropping-blackbox we already downloaded and installed onto your computer without your consent or knowledge. You can look at the code as it looks right now to see that the code doesn’t do this right now.
2) Yes, Chromium is bypassing the entire source code auditing process by downloading a pre-built black box onto people’s computers. But that’s not something we care about, really. We’re concerned with building Google Chrome, the product from Google. As part of that, we provide the source code for others to package if they like. Anybody who uses our code for their own purpose takes responsibility for it. When this happens in a Debian installation, it is not Google Chrome’s behavior, this is Debian Chromium’s behavior. It’s Debian’s responsibility entirely.
3) Yes, we deliberately hid this listening module from the users, but that’s because we consider this behavior to be part of the basic Google Chrome experience. We don’t want to show all modules that we install ourselves.”
The writer describes that “software switches” are no longer enough to protect against this type of eavesdropping, software switches are programs that turn off your webcam/mic etc,. Really, the author feels a physical switch that cuts electrical connection to the device is required to prevent this. It is an odd thing to observe for me, because many people were furious when news of the NSA’s technological trawler of private information became common knowledge. When Google silently attempts to install even more passage ways for your intimate information to be siphoned, not much is said about it.
In fact many have begun the repetitive nature of apathetic perception, one example being “It only eavesdrops when you say, “OK, Google” (Wouldn’t it need to listen to everything to know when you say, “OK, Google”?) and it goes on and on. Ultimately, there will always be a large portion of users who simply do not care whether or not a shadowy corporation is listening to them, or a maniacal government for that matter.
Yet in principle, the fact Google did this with the intention of users having no clue that they have had their privacy sliced even deeper; simply demonstrates the corporation’s lack of compassion and boundaries. However you choose to handle this story, deleting Chrome in exchange for more private-oriented software programs, not doing anything or learning more about it; one thing is clear: we also have a responsibility to ensure this type of usurpation is not treated with an accepting embrace. More people learn what is happening by the day, it is only a matter of time before there is a tipping point – I hope to see you there. Thanks for reading.
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