Google settles on another privacy suit

posted at 9:31 am on July 28, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

Questions regarding web giant Google and precisely how far they pry into each and every interaction you have on the internet never seem to go away. This was brought to light yet again last week, as the company decided to settle on a three year old privacy suit.

Google has tentatively agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle a three-year-old class action lawsuit that claimed the Internet search company violated users’ privacy by leaking their search queries – which may include names or other identifying information – to operators of websites that the users may visit.

Under the proposed settlement, the $8.5 million will go into a fund that – after subtracting the plaintiffs’ attorney fees – would be divided among seven nonprofit groups that promise to use the money on public education campaigns about technology and privacy. The groups include the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, the World Privacy Forum, the MacArthur Foundation and AARP.

As the article goes on to note, this case sounds like yet another settlement which will go to benefit essentially nobody except for the lawyers involved and some largely untraceable nonprofits who all have staff to pay. But it does serve to highlight yet again exactly how pervasive Google is in the online lives of everyone. I have two brief bits of anecdotal evidence to offer here which recently came up and tie into some of the concerns people have.

I was recently working with a colleague who was using the services of a company which involved fairly large numbers of 55 gallon drums of raw materials. They had to entirely cut off the lids of the drums to empty the mostly solid material, and used an electric “de-header” which essentially resembles a giant cat food can opener. Sometimes the “chime” (or lip) of the barrels gets bent or damaged in transit and needs to be straightened out. It turns out that a company called Wizard produces a special tool which does nothing but straighten out barrel chimes, called a drum chime dekinker.

For whatever reason, I found that kind of amusing and Googled up the tool. ( I was rather shocked to see that it cost more than 200 bucks.) At lunch, I opened up CNN’s home page to check the headlines, as I usually do. On the right hand side of the page (before they recently changed their format) there were some advertisements. Can you guess what the first ad at the top was? Yep… an advertisement for a Wizard Drum Chime Dekinker. The odds of that are too staggering to even contemplate, so it was obvious how it got there.

In a similar episode, as fishing season approached this year, my brother sent me an e-mail where he mentioned a relatively new sporting goods company in Washington State who sell some bass lures which he had tried and suggested to me. That same day, the Google ads on my G-mail home page had an advertisement for that company’s fishing lures. Again, this is beyond the limits of the universe of random chance.

So Google is tracking a lot more than just a list of contacts you have, as we’ve long known. They are storing the information on not only who you are talking to, but the content of your conversations. (Please note, I’m not implying there are real, living people reading each of your e-mails. It’s software which scans and stores the content searching for keywords.) I had long since given up worrying about such things, pretty much surrendering my privacy concerns to Google in exchange for the extremely useful and pervasive tools they offer for free. But in the era of the NSA tapping such providers on the shoulder, it certainly gives one pause.


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What’s wrong with that?

Signed,
Winston Smith, right before the bullet hit

Wino on July 28, 2013 at 9:37 AM

I have also noticed the same thing. Whenever I use the internet to view or purchase an item I get adds, usually from Amazon, in the google add spaces.

Rode Werk on July 28, 2013 at 9:39 AM

Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the internet is

The press has lost the plot over the Snowden revelations. The fact is that the net is finished as a global network and that US firms’ cloud services cannot be trusted

petefrt on July 28, 2013 at 9:39 AM

To borrow RWM’s feature…

MR2B – Somebody’s Watching Me

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 9:39 AM

By the way, that second example is why I do not have a Gmail account.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Dammit; the typos are spilling over to the morning – that’s M2RB, not MR2B.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Cookies from Google pop up everywhere, and I never go to Google. I have to constantly delete their cookies.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Dammit; the typos are spilling over to the morning – that’s M2RB, not MR2B.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 9:46 AM

Little early to be drinking, isn’t it Steve? And remember… that’s coming from me.

Jazz Shaw on July 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Little early to be drinking, isn’t it Steve? And remember… that’s coming from me.

Jazz Shaw on July 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Given the state of the Union, it’s NEVER too early to start drinking.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

This is not some sort of sinister snooping plot. It’s a marketing technique called retargeting, and it’s practiced not by Google, but by many businesses that have websites. Retargeting doesn’t look into your search records. Instead, it plants a cookie on your computer, much the way Amazon does to keep track of your shopping patterns with them. Only in this case, having visited the site, you see ads for the business on other sites that carry advertising when you visit them. So, as is usual with these posts, it wasn’t “obvious” how the ads got there and was “too staggering to contemplate” only to bloggers who can’t be bothered to get some facts before they post.

bgoldman on July 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Little early to be drinking, isn’t it Steve? And remember… that’s coming from me.

Jazz Shaw on July 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I blame the pain in my left elbow that’s been bothering me the last couple weeks. Maybe if I were drinking, it wouldn’t be bothering me ;-)

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Given the state of the Union, it’s NEVER too early to start drinking.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

I’ll drink to that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Can you guess what the first ad at the top was? Yep… an advertisement for a Wizard Drum Chime Dekinker. The odds of that are too staggering to even contemplate, so it was obvious how it got there.

Yeah, so Jazz tell me how the chick in the white bikini (cruize ship ad) shows up in the Sponsored From Around the Web banner here at HA. P.S. The better half would really like to know. Although her theory is to keep me interested in HA.

Bmore on July 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Given the state of the Union, it’s NEVER too early to start drinking.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

I’ll drink to that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

*clink*

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:06 AM

bgoldman on July 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Which, of course, misses the second example Jazz gave, the snooping of e-mail that goes to a Gmail address. BTW, Google has admitted they do that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:07 AM

The world’s GPS system is vulnerable to hackers or terrorists who could use it to hijack ships — even commercial airliners, according to a frightening new study that exposes a huge potential hole in national security.

Using a laptop, a small antenna and an electronic GPS “spoofer” built for $3,000, GPS expert Todd Humphreys and his team at the University of Texas took control of the sophisticated navigation system aboard an $80 million, 210-foot super-yacht in the Mediterranean Sea.

“We injected our spoofing signals into its GPS antennas and we’re basically able to control its navigation system with our spoofing signals,” Humphreys told Fox News.

‘Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried about.’

- Todd Humphreys, a GPS expert at the University of Texas

By feeding counterfeit radio signals to the yacht, the UT team was able to drive the ship far off course, steer it left and right, potentially take it into treacherous waters, even put it on a collision course with another ship. All the time, the ship’s GPS system reported the vessel was calmly moving in a straight line, along its intended course. No alarms, no indication that anything was amiss.

Capt. Andrew Schofield, who invited Humphreys and his team aboard to conduct the experiment told Fox News he and his crew were stunned by the results.

EXCLUSIVE: GPS flaw could let terrorists hijack ships, planes

But, doncha worry! The NSA is on the ball. Quite obviously, collecting the ‘haystack’ will, somehow, some way, take care of this ‘needle.’ ///

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

I read a piece that says, because Russia is clamping down on homosexuals, American gay bars will no longer serve Stolichnaya vodka.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:11 AM

I blame the pain in my left elbow that’s been bothering me the last couple weeks. Maybe if I were drinking, it wouldn’t be bothering me ;-)

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:04 AM

…yeah yeah yeah!…start drinking…using your right arm so your left one can recover!

KOOLAID2 on July 28, 2013 at 10:12 AM

The Good Hacker: Barnaby Jack Dies

Barnaby Jack could kill a man by computer from 30 feet away, but he never would.

His shocking death comes just days before he was meant to give an anticipated presentation called Implantable medical devices: hacking humans at the Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas, in which he would demonstrate shortcomings in medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators.

Despite incredulous reactions to the Homeland episode in which a character is killed when a terrorist hacks into his pacemaker, Jack understood that flaws in the medical device design indeed made it more possible that anyone else imagined. In a 2013 blog post, “Broken Hearts,” Jack explained that the scene “was not too far off the mark.”

“The technology as it stands could very easily be adapted for physicians to remotely adjust parameters and settings on these devices via the bedside transmitters,” Jack wrote. “In the future, a scenario like this could certainly become a reality.”

“Sometimes you have to demonstrate the darker side.”

In a 2012 speech to at the BreakPoint security conference in Melbourne, Jack actually demonstrated this type of “anonymous assassination” by reverse-engineering a pacemaker transmitter that could deliver deadly electric shocks. A video of the demonstration isn’t available because Jack didn’t want to reveal the name of the manufacturer and put anyone in danger.

He told conference goers, “With a max voltage of 830 volts, it’s not hard to see why this is a fairly deadly feature. Not only could you induce cardiac arrest, but you could continually recharge the device and deliver shocks on loop,” according to a report in SC Magazine.

His findings were also instrumental in a GAO report suggesting the FDA should improve information security for medical devices released in 2012.

In 2011, while working at McAfee he discovered weaknesses in insulin pumps that could cause the release of lethal doses of insulin straight into the bloodstream of diabetics. He presented his findings by live-hacking a friend’s pump at a conference, prompting the medical device maker Medtronic Inc. to make safety and security improvements.

But…

‘Embrace the philosophy of ‘all your data belong to us’ or the terrorists will win! Besides, trading a little liberty for security never hurt anyone. No, seriously.’

- Chris Christie, Pete King, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, etc

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Don’t you ever quit? :-)

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:21 AM

I read a piece that says, because Russia is clamping down on homosexuals, American gay bars will no longer serve Stolichnaya vodka.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:11 AM

You’ll love this…

Among those now joining the liberal media elite in waving farewell to the Bible and other apparently outdated religious texts is…an archbishop. “South African peace icon Desmond Tutu has said he would rather go to hell than worship a homophobic God, likening the fight against gay prejudice to the anti-apartheid struggle.”

Al-Jazeera relayed Tutu made the comments on Friday at the launch of a United Nations lobbying campaign against traditional “homophobic” religion in Cape Town.

‘I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.’

- Archbishop Bishop Tutu said, condemning the use of religious justification for anti-gay prejudice.

Launched by the UN Human Rights Office, the public education campaign “Free and Equal” aims to raise awareness of anti-gay violence and discrimination.

Apart from Tutu’s statement, it is quite ironic to see Al Jazeera going with a ‘Hey, look! Christianity is homophobic. Drop Jesus and embrace Allah!’ story.

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

I know you’re an atheist and all, but the devil is quite depraved. We Christians have always maintained Satan is a real person, though different from humans who are created a little lower than angels.

Not to presume to preach at you, but the depravity of Satan is pretty clear among those who are deceived by him.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:30 AM

…it even happens on hotair….try googling or even going to netflix or staples and then go to hotair and see what ads show up on the side bar. I just picked those cause I know they are doing a lot of online advertising, but it’s not just random chance.

dpeters8 on July 28, 2013 at 10:31 AM

…it even happens on hotair….try googling or even going to netflix or staples and then go to hotair and see what ads show up on the side bar. I just picked those cause I know they are doing a lot of online advertising, but it’s not just random chance.

dpeters8 on July 28, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Worse, take a peek at the cookies you get. I get cookies from Twitter, and I don’t have a Twitter account.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM

If you want to see just how many companies are gathering/using/sharing your info, use Firefox browser on a PC and install the Ghostery add-on.

ROCnPhilly on July 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Which, of course, misses the second example Jazz gave, the snooping of e-mail that goes to a Gmail address. BTW, Google has admitted they do that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:07 AM

So because it’s only the second example, it’s okay to make up facts as you go along? That’s what was called “too staggering to contemplate.”

bgoldman on July 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM

petefrt on July 28, 2013 at 9:39 AM

If you put your work on other people’s hardware, they have access to it.

dogsoldier on July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

‘Imagine shutting down a port. Imagine running a ship aground. These are the kinds of implications we’re worried about.’

- Todd Humphreys, a GPS expert at the University of Texas

Second look at Die Hard 2 plot?

When Stuart learns of this, he responds by recalibrating the instrument landing system and then impersonating air traffic controllers to crash a jet, killing all 230 passengers and crew on board the aircraft.

Goody2Shoes on July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

You are just now learning how Google targets ads? This is no revelation, its been widely known for years and years and its no secret either. And its seriously not a big deal either.

thphilli on July 28, 2013 at 10:57 AM

bgoldman on July 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM

These people understand what is happening, for me the point is, what and who we don’t know is getting the information. Just because I use adblock the information doesn’t go away. Why does the U.S. government need a HUGE facility in Utah for storage? And why are they continuing to use a program that obvious doesn’t work any more?

Cindy Munford on July 28, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Second look at Die Hard 2 plot?

Goody2Shoes on July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

I don’t think that I’ve ever seen Die Hard 2, but it was obviously better than Speed 2 given the numerous sequels in the franchise. Speed died with the boat.

Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 11:26 AM

…wonder what kind of ads the trolls get from Google as they post on HA…in their birthday suits?

KOOLAID2 on July 28, 2013 at 11:28 AM

So because it’s only the second example, it’s okay to make up facts as you go along? That’s what was called “too staggering to contemplate.”

bgoldman on July 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM

You really need to work on your reading comprehension.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 11:45 AM

AARP.

AARP for privacy? What a joke. these folks were behind Obamacare –the fiasco that takes your right to privacy with your doctor (so much for that other faux Supreme Court creation in Roe V Wade) and redistribute all your info to the waiting clutches of a gazillion government paid bureaucrats for their lunch break comedy…(not to mention those eagerly-waiting Death Panel contestant winners)

Don L on July 28, 2013 at 11:46 AM

…but, but they’re so successful!!!!

…Brayam the bootlicker on any day of the year 2013

CW on July 28, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Worse, take a peek at the cookies you get. I get cookies from Twitter, and I don’t have a Twitter account.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Because you accept third-party cookies (which is the default for every browser, even those that distinguish between first-party and third-party cookies), and probably clicked on a link to a page hosted by Twitter once or twice as well.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Given the state of the Union, it’s NEVER too early to start drinking.

Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

I’ll drink to that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 10:05 AM

To be safe only drink Russian government approved vodka and always with the left hand…they’re watching, remember.

Don L on July 28, 2013 at 11:50 AM

To be safe only drink Russian government approved vodka and always with the left hand…they’re watching, remember.

Don L on July 28, 2013 at 11:50 AM

“PAH!” to that.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Google mission:

Old and Busted: “Do no evil”

New hotness: Doing evil!

PappyD61 on July 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Lets start by getting rid of Google Chrome!!!

We uninstalled it last week and the file was very large and our computer ran much faster/smoother without it.

PappyD61 on July 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Worse, take a peek at the cookies you get. I get cookies from Twitter, and I don’t have a Twitter account.

[Liam on July 28, 2013 at 10:35 AM]

Liam, I think you get cookies from Twitter because the sites you go to have a Twitter link on them. Those little icons that let you “Tweet this” page or whatever it’s for, polls Twitter to get the icon and it puts a cookie on your computer.

And yes, I think Steve is right about being able to control it with the third-party cookies function in your browser.

But I also believe that even if you do not accept third-party cookies, the Twitter icon is a way around that, but it’s more work for Twitter because Twitter is still polled, Twitter sends the icon, thus collecting your IP address and Twitter then has to store that info. In essence, it’s a like reverse cookie you put in Twitter’s computer, but that giving of the cookie is facilitated by the website you go.

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Sadly, they still do this. I’m sure everyone here has done a search and found that the hits include websites that have the exact search terms entered with the word “Buy” in front of them.

The worst part is that many of these sites are drive by malware providers.

If I see all my search terms in the title of the result, I NEVER click through.

unclesmrgol on July 28, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Lets start by getting rid of Google Chrome!!!

We uninstalled it last week and the file was very large and our computer ran much faster/smoother without it.

[PappyD61 on July 28, 2013 at 12:34 PM]

I’m curious about your having your computer run faster without it. Was Chrome loading TSR’s on startup?

I have Google Earth but it always loaded some programs on startup and polled Google regularly even when I hadn’t used GE. I eliminated that by moving the program in question to different folder until I want to use GE. (I knew this because Zone Alarm used to provide info on all traffic. But now it doesn’t provide that info, so I’ve been in limbo on that for quite a while and haven’t found something to do that for me.)

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 12:48 PM

- Archbishop Bishop Tutu said, condemning the use of religious justification for anti-gay prejudice.Launched by the UN Human Rights Office, the public education campaign “Free and Equal” aims to raise awareness of anti-gay violence and discrimination.Apart from Tutu’s statement, it is quite ironic to see Al Jazeera going with a ‘Hey, look! Christianity is homophobic. Drop Jesus and embrace Allah!’ story.
Resist We Much on July 28, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Heh. A so called man of god is going to dictate acceptable behaviour from his god? Not gonna happen. Instead he’ll be on bended knee begging for mercy.

AH_C on July 28, 2013 at 12:48 PM

If you want to see just how many companies are gathering/using/sharing your info, use Firefox browser on a PC and install the Ghostery add-on.

[ROCnPhilly on July 28, 2013 at 10:38 AM]

I noticed something weird because of Ghostery. I usually block everything all the time, but there are times when I turn it off for some sites, such as when I want to comment or read comments. When I do this on some sites, the blocked condition shows maybe 5 trackers, but when I turn off blocking I’ll get more than five (say 7) on a reload, and if I reload again I’ll get more again (say 10).

Daily Caller and The Blaze are the sites I’ve seen with the most trackers — 27 and 15 respectively — though that is in the blocked condition. I’m afraid to check what it might be when unblocked.

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Second look at Die Hard 2 plot?

When Stuart learns of this, he responds by recalibrating the instrument landing system and then impersonating air traffic controllers to crash a jet, killing all 230 passengers and crew on board the aircraft.

Goody2Shoes on July 28, 2013 at 10:55 AM

That’s true since early 2000. The newer systems are connected to the internet and controlled remotely. Saves time and money having to send technicians around to check and adjust settings on a regular basis. Very efficient but at the expense of security. I would think that it wouldn’t escape the attention of those tasked with monitoring the readings, as in spoofing a fake proper reading while broadcasting deadly signals. IIRC that would require physical access to re-trim the signal cables. Nonetheless if in a low visibility scenario where one wanted to take down just one plane, a few minutes of a hacked system would do the trick.

AH_C on July 28, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 12:36 PM

One could do a whole post on how to limit cookies, and how even those limitations don’t entirely work. Personally, I set the browser to ask me whether to accept first-party cookies and reject third-party ones, though the third-party rejection will not work if I accepted first-party cookies from that domain (or in the case of Firefox, that subdomain).

Two nice things about Firefox that other browsers don’t have:

- With an “ask” setting, it asks about each subdomain (so I can accept www.domainname.com cookies but reject ads.domainname.com cookies).

- It can be set so a particular (sub)domain has even “persistent” cookies erased each time I close out the browser, while another (sub)domain can keep its “persistent” cookies.

That graphic trick is more prevalent in e-mails. That’s why, outside of certain trusted addresses, I do not have my e-mail client (Thunderbird) automatically open images.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Google mission:

Old and Busted: “Do no evil”

New hotness: Doing evil!

PappyD61 on July 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Timeless classic: “Don’t be conservative!”

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 1:07 PM

One could do a whole post on how to limit cookies, and how even those limitations don’t entirely work.

[Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 1:05 PM]

Sometimes I wonder if the effort is even worth it. Just because one prevents the cookie from being placed on the computer doesn’t mean the information hasn’t been transmitted. The third party still collected the IP address and knows which site the person went to that caused the request prompting the third party cookie to be sent.

I suspect the same thinking applies to Ghostery. Ghostery may block the tracker, but to do so the communication from the tracker still occurs, so some basic information the tracker wanted is still generated and probably harvested.

It seems to me that cookies was a way to address an issue caused by rolling IP addresses. Now that IP addresses are permanently assigned, the issue (for the advertisers and the trackers) has gone away.

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Dusty on July 28, 2013 at 1:35 PM

The best we can do is to force the Googles and Twitters of the world to host that information on their servers, where it is a bit harder for them to exploit it and a lot harder for other parties to exploit it. I’ll say it’s worth it.

Steve Eggleston on July 28, 2013 at 1:47 PM

The reality is, the NSA isn’t watching you; Google is.

Count to 10 on July 28, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Yep… an advertisement for a Wizard Drum Chime Dekinker. The odds of that are too staggering to even contemplate, so it was obvious how it got there.

Hot Air does it too. I have ads directed at me that are from websites that I visit and merchants I have dealt with in the past.

Right now, on this page, is a Tanga ad. I get multiple emails a day from them and occasionally click. I have purchased once.

I have also seen ads from merchants that I have done business with in the past that I doubt many here do.

kim roy on July 28, 2013 at 4:19 PM

I don’t think Google has ever hidden that this is what they do. They will show you ads based on your emails and searches. If you don’t want them to follow your searches, log out – or don’t use Google Search.

Phoenician on July 28, 2013 at 4:46 PM