The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Syncing the Mayo!

Woah! I just realized that today is

5/5/5

Also, I've had several people just walk up to me and say, “Sync the mayo!” At first, I found it odd, but after the third time or so, I thought that maybe it was some sort of code, and I tried replying “I have a red pencil,” but that just made the person saying “sync the mayo” get a confused look on their face so I gave up on that phrase. I also tried replying “the sandals are very comfortable,” but again I got a glassy look.

I'm not even sure how to respond to “sync the mayo!”


Because the Scooby Gang have yet to unmask Sergei Brin

I came across this rather forgettable article about Google's Web Accelerator. Normally, I would simply skip this and move on, but since Amanda (in a private post on her LiveJournal) asked about this, I figured I could answer her questions here (and entertain you people).

So anyway, here's a (nearly) point-by-point rebuttle to Think before you Worship:

There's a hardcore group of folks on the Internet who assume Google can do no wrong.

Yes, and they all work for Google.

To their credit, Google has spent years and millions upon millions of dollars cultivating this image, so I can understand where it comes from. The average Internet user seems to believe if they can't personally see a direct connection between ad revenue and a provided service, then the company responsible for such a product is some blameless, holy creature sent down by the good lord himself. “Well gee, Google offers all these services which don't cost me a thing, therefore they've got to be an unquestionable, infallible entity in my book!” the greasy nerd with 10-pound glasses exclaims while typing “MICROSOFT SUCKS” into his Google search bar. “Clearly this company only produces things for the good of all humanity! They aren't concerned with trivial things such as making money, dominating the marketplace, or boosting their stock prices!”

No, they are. If they weren't, they wouldn't be around for long. Any company that doesn't make money won't be around for long, and I'm sure that many companies would love to dominate the marketplace. Also, it's only public companies that want to boost their stock prices, and Google has only been a public company for about a year, if that.

This type of idiotic, blind fanboy mentality has led to where we are today: the Google Web Accelerator.

Funny, I thought that argument lead to us being in Iraq.

Millions of drooling bandwagoneers across the globe salivated at the thought of using yet another Google-produced product, once again passing over the fact that every business decision in Google's headquarters—and I repeat every business decision—is made with the bottom line of earning more money.

Since when is this news? Every business decision is made with the bottom line of earning more money—that's what a company does! It's what it exists for. Now, private companies have a bit more leeway in how they go about making money and what they can do with that money; public companies less so, since by law, they must incrase shareholder value, and that generally means anything to boost the stock price or dividends paid out.

True, bad decisions do come about (like the merger of HP and Compac) but even then it can still be traced back to the bottom line of earning more money, only in some cases, it's best to ask who's bottom is earning more money.

Google doesn't give a shit about you or me, unless you or me has the ability to give them money in some way. This is how every corporation is; they don't care about anything except making a buck.

Well, technically, a public company doesn't care about anything except for increasing shareholder value—they can't care about anything else by law! Private companies (like I said) have a bit more leeway since they aren't under public scrutiny (and that can be a Good Thing™ or a Bad Thing®).

Yet Google's history, their expensive team of lawyers, PR people, and viral advertising, has allowed them to ascend past the image of a generic corporate entity with the same bottom line as every generic corporate entity in the world. Such grace and good fortune has allowed them to release the Google Web Accelerator without facing a single shred of public scrutiny. So what does this incredible free new service accomplish?

Really? This isn't a publically viewable page? Wait a second … am I using the Google Web Accelerator? Oh wait … I'm getting ahead of myself here …

Google claims it magically speeds up your Internet connection, and for the average user, it does. This is done by caching entire websites on Google's servers, passing copies of any page a user visits and sending them to Google HQ.

Two points here—one, Google has already cached sites for their other major operation (search, remember? Also, anyone can view their cached version of a page by clicking on a link from their results page, and that fact could be used to survive a slashdotting) and two, they fetch the page on your behalf; you don't send them a copy at all. Does the author not understand basic web caching strategies? Or is he exagerating for effect?

Basically they're just creating carbon copies of everything you read, every site you visit, every image you load, and storing them on their servers, under the idea that you will have a faster connection to their servers than you would to whatever website you're visiting.

Well here's the problem, folks: everything you view is now owned by Google.

And if that is true, then you don't have to worry about this as the likes of CNN, the New York Times, Time, the RIAA, the MPAA, Playboy, Hustler and scores of other companies will nuke Google (from orbit—that's the only way to make sure) for even attempting to assert ownership of anything that is viewed by users of its service.

Do you read email? Well now Google reads your email, and now the entire world can read your email.

Yes I read email, but no, Google doesn't read my email—at least, it doesn't read any email not addressed to sean.conner@gmail.com (and frankly, while I have a GMail account, I don't bother using it at all).

But that's besides the point—even if I did use GMail, that doesn't mean that the entire world can now read my email (security incidents aside, and even then, everybody in the world would have to actively exploit any hypothetical security hole in order to read my email at Gmail).

Do you use private messages through a website? Well they aren't private any more; now anybody using Google's Web Accelerator can read them. Every single page you read, every single website you visit, every single cookie you use, every single thing you do on the Internet is now owned by Google and is viewable to anybody using their program. I hope you're completely comfortable with the entire world being able to see every single webpage you read and every single website you visit, because thanks to Google, it's now happening. Check out their privacy policy if you don't believe me.

I'd like to know how, say, Dad, could get my web viewing habits from the Google Web Accelerator (assuming I used said Google Web Accelerator, and if he were interested in reading what I read). Again, the author either doesn't know how the web works, or is simply trying to scare people from using the Google Web Accelerator.

I'm having to pay a coder just to figure out how to prevent Google from caching all the webpages on our forums.

There are a number of ways to prevent Google from caching your webpages, and what method you use depends upon how much you trust Google. You could try setting the Cache-Control: header. If Google uses a unique agent string (and Google already uses a unique agent string when crawling a website for indexing) you could check for that. The Google Web Accelerator may also come from a set of known IP addresses and you could certainly block on that (from within your webserver program, on the server itself or even at your site's main router). If the coder you hired hasn't come up with this, then you're wasting your money.

Why is this a problem? Well first of all, it's a giant security hole, as private forums for mods and admins can now be viewed by anybody. Thanks Google, thank you very much for sharing our sensitive information with the entire Internet, without even giving warning or notice to any parties involved!

Again, how?

Secondly, our forums offer a private messaging feature, where users can send messages to each other which can only be read by them. It's like AIM or ICQ, but through a webpage. If you're using Google's Web Accelerator—guess what?—now anybody can read your private messages! Cookies, logins, sensitive information, private messages—they're all stored on Google's servers now, and they're all available for anybody on the Internet to read.

I hate to break it to you, but if you think for a second that your AIM or ICQ traffic is private then I have some nice swamp land to sell you. AIM and ICQ go through centralized servers and I'm sure that the technicians there get off on reading chat logs of the rich and famous. So again, nothing new there.

But again, I fail to see how (short of an exploit or some random Google engineer giving this out) this allows me to read your cookies, logins and other sensitive information.

So how can a company like Google get away with this?

Because the Scooby Gang have yet to unmask Sergei Brin?

If Microsoft had released something similar, you can damn well be sure millions of angry, greasy Lunix zealots would be carrying torches and pitchforks to Bill Gates' house. The reason Google can so brazenly trample over the entire Internet is because people let them. They spent so long carefully crafting their pristine Internet image and reputation that all their actions are now seen as faultless, for the good of all humanity. Google surely wouldn't do anything bad or evil! After all, their company's motto says so! You know, that company motto they paid a legal and creative team to come up with.

From what I understand, Sergei Brin and Larry Page wrote their company motto, and insisted that go into the SEC filings prior to their IPO (they also pissed off many brokers on Wall Street by making them do actual work—eeeeeeeeeeeevil company that Google).

For the company that makes millions upon millions of dollars. For a business fueled by capitalism, just like every other corporation in the history of the universe.

Making money isn't bad. The pursuit of money isn't bad. Money isn't bad. Failing to question companies that prey on you is bad. Google doesn't care about you or me or the Internet as a whole, unless one or all of these things can somehow make them another dollar. They are just like every other company and should be treated as such. Microsoft receives strict scrutiny for every move they make, which is a damn good thing because it keeps their company in check.

I wish, but I digress …

Google doesn't, and this is what led to the release of their Web Accelerator program. Bending over to worship at the feet of a company just gives them a better chance to step on your back and boost themselves higher. Google is just another Microsoft without the bad reputation.

Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka

I can see what Mr. Kyanka is worried about though—Google gaining access to content that it otherwise normally would not be able to see, and he's obviously worried about it be indexed into Google's search results and that is a cause for concern, but not for running about screaming “the sky is falling!” I think the engineers at Google are smart enough not to mix the content they get through their Web Accellerator with their search engine caches—so far, Google seems to “get” the web.

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