Google eyes...

THAT’S IT, you give everything away – and there is nothing you can do about it, except move to ‘another world’. Privacy is one of our most treasured possessions. We fight for it, we hide behind it and we vilify the Fourth Estate for abusing it and yet today, March 1, 2012, almost all of us abandoned it for no other real reason than to make Google immeasurably richer.

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Google shame

HARD-WORKING IT consultant Toni Bennett was horrified the day he checked internet reviews about his business. Google was telling the world that he was paedophile.

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Google and Rosie

AUTHOR ROSIE Alison recently asked to check out reviews of her books on its site. The author had started to see a patten developing in negative reviews which she feared was an online "stalker".

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Facts or fiction?

GOOGLE is said to be the first search engine to use a cookie that expires in 2038. For all searches - experts say - Google records the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date and search terms.

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Google Facts or Fiction?

1. Google's 'long-life' cookie: Google is said to be the first search engine to use a cookie that expires in 2038.

2. Google records 'everything they can': For all searches - experts say - Google records the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date and search terms.

3. Google retains all data indefinitely: Experts say Google appears to have no data retention policies.

4. Google won't say why they need this data: Inquiries to Google about their privacy policies appear to be generally ignored.

5. Google hires 'spies': It's said a Google engineer used to work for the National Security Agency.

6. Google's toolbar 'is spyware': Google's free toolbar for Explorer is believed to 'phone home' with every page you surf.

7. Google's cache copy 'is illegal': Google's cache copy is said by some to be illegal. The only way a webmaster can avoid having his site cached on Google is to put a "noarchive" meta in the header of every page on his site.

8. Google monopoly: By now Google enjoys a massive monopoly for all external referrals to most websites. Webmasters cannot avoid seeking Google's approval.

9. Google is a privacy time bomb: With hundreds of millions of searches a day Google could amount to a privacy disaster waiting to happen.


IN THE good old days when citizenship was seen as a constitutional guarantee of equality there was a job that people like me always coveted.

It was the slightly pompous job of critic, or reviewer. It was the job that got you places - to the theatre, to the best restaurants in town. It got you to Royal Command Performances, it allowed you to ricochet amongst the stars.

Being a critic gave you the power to make or break people, businesses and careers. But way back then - in those good old days - there were rules and there were editors, there was libel and deformation.

But Now is Now and we're in the 2000s, the century that gave the world unfettered freedom of speech. Sadly, few of us have any idea what to do with it. In the 2000s we all got the right to express ourselves publicly and at the same time we got the world's biggest platform - GOOGLE!

And without conscience, control or care the monstrous Google is now careening lawlessly and endlessly around the world eating up people and spitting out the remains of their lives.

Google is the platform for faceless

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Google's trip to a place where 'trust' was finally lost

THINGS are so bad out in the wonderful world of cyber comment and honesty that TripAdvisor has been ordered to rewrite its 'marketing manual' by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority.

It's almost 10 years since it published its first holiday review and the site is one of the internet's success stories, in terms of Google and other search traffic.

And more than 50 million reviews have now been published on the site. Basically, TripAdvisor allows people to share their experiences of hotels, flights, restaurants and tourist attractions.

American Steve Kaufer, set up the site more than a decade ago, after being unable to get information for a trip to Mexico except from glossy brochures supplied by travel agents.

Now it is one of the most powerful agencies in the travel industry.

The ASA ruling follows complaints by hotels that the site had claimed its holiday reviews could be "trusted". The ASA said it was concerned that consumers might be fooled by fraudulent posts since the entries could be made "without any form of verification".

The ASA said that the US-based firm's site originally carried statements saying that it contained "reviews that you can trust" and that it had...

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Google and the beet generation

Google and the beet generation

OKAY, somebody help me! Does Schrute Farms in North eastern Pennsylvania really exist or not?

On the one hand Google says it does – and on the other Google says it doesn't. It's got me beet to say the least.

NBC is apparently working on a spin-off of its own dire version of the UK's TV hit The Office which will star actor Rainn Wilson. The new show will be about Schrute Farms. Hmmm, things get stranger...

Now the mystery of Schrute Farms actually came out of a 2007 episode of The Office. It was described as an "agri-tourism" bed and breakfast in which guests take part in demonstrations of beet wine-making, and inexplicably digging in to manure. The B&B is said to have three rooms with different themes, America, Irrigation, and Night-time.

It all seems a bit far-fetched and, dare I say unsavoury, but Shrute Farm's TripAdvisor page has got 875 reviews which give it and average rating of 4 to 5. How's that happen then?

In the episode of The Office that introduced the farm, Dwight Schrute said: “TripAdvisor is the life-blood of the agro-tourism industry. A couple of bad reviews there, you may as well close up shop. That's what took down the Stalk Inn; one of the cutest little asparagus farms you'll ever see.”

So now it appears something which doesn't actually exist is doing extremely well on a reviews site which has undoubtedly caused problems in the past for real companies. It's a funny world out there in cyber space isn't it.

TripAdvisor, according to the New York Times, has cashed in on the fame of the farm fable. The NYT reports TripAdvisor as saying: “We don’t have a big marketing budget and don’t do TV ads, so this was the big time.”

TripAdvisor decided to keep the listing live. But then complaints came in from people who wanted to go and stay there. TripAdvisor did the honourable thing and put up a notice saying: “As seen on NBC's The Office. Have fun reading these reviews - go on, add your own! Just don't try to book a visit here, because this fictional place doesn't really exist."

But this story just goes to show that the power of review sites like this and the power of Google's search engine can turn a bit of telly fun into a strange reality.

Google – do you want the bad news or … yes the bad news?

NO GOLD stars for Google whose searches on rogue plumber Rodney Goldson told prospective clients what a good operator he was.

Rodney was actually a bit of a plonker who specialised in boilers and, according to the BBC, ripping people off– they claimed he really turned up the heat when unsuspecting customers called him in after reading rave reviews on the net about his firm Goldstar Gas and Heating Services, based in Mitcham, South London.

(Rodney's firm shouldn't be confused with other companies across the country with similar names – Rodney's based in Mitcham!)

One of his victims Mary Anne Ker owns her daughter Samantha's house in Tooting. Samantha shares it with friends. Their heating failed last March so they checked out Goldstar Gas and Heating Services on the net and found rave reviews. Highly recommended, at least one site said.

Well with glowing reviews around him like a halo Rodney turned up at the job and asked if Samantha if she wanted 'the bad news or the bad news'. He condemned the boiler.

The BBC's Watchdog programme said he told Samantha 'it was dangerous, that there was a problem with the carbon monoxide poisoning, that the boiler was sparking and singeing a back wall'. The price to fix it £5,500.

A couple of weeks after...

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Google Upsets the Mighty Amazon...

PUBLISH and be damned has taken on a whole new meaning in the cyber world and books giant Amazon is a major victim.

The world's biggest bookshop has revealed that as soon as it publishes one of its famous guide books it is hit by a flurry of malicious reviews. What's so shameful about this revelation is the fact that Amazon has checked the fake reviews out and discovered who's behind them.

Literary world hang your heads in shame … it's almost certainly jealous authors and publishing houses.

Amazon said: "Since first publishing our guide books, each year Amazon has been receiving a number of inaccurate and hostile reviews posted against each book. We value constructive criticism but where inaccurate and hostile reviews are concerned we have to advise our potential readers of these attacks and their malicious intent."

The internet literary phenomenon has spotted that the majority of the posts arrive in Spring, at the perceived beginning of the book season, and are obviously aimed at hitting burgeoning sales. But the attacks carry on throughout the year.

Amazon said: “As books receive complementary reviews from real readers the bad ones arrive alongside them. All emanate from a person or persons who have never posted a review on any other product. Where the origin has been confirmed, it is invariably from a competing author or publication

"All those posted against our books contain totally inaccurate comments and 'invented' criticisms with no relevance to the true book content. We have therefore asked Amazon to investigate the origin of the offending reviews."

Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, confirmed the problem happened "quite often."

Google could learn from the people who really care

THE director of a website where parents rate childcare has pledged that malicious comments will be cleaned off their site immediately they appear.

The Good Care Guide lists almost 60,000 childcare providers along with care homes for the elderly. People rate the carers. The website information meets Ofsted standards but providers are worried the site will bring in a flood of unfair or false reviews.

Now Denise Burke, joint director of United for All Ages, which developed the site alongside My Family Care, said safeguards have been put in place and these will stop that happening.

Denise said: "To make a comment you must sign up and register, leaving a whole range of information, including name and address. You have to wait until we email you back to respond to ratify the email address and ID.

"When a comment is left, we alert the provider by email or phone and give them the opportunity to look at it. If they believe the content to be false, they can report it and we can take that comment down immediately.

"We then go back to the person who left the comment and ask for additional information to substantiate their comment before making a decision."

Denise said that any provider attempting to create comments on their own listings will be caught too.

"The adjudication happens whether it is a positive or negative comment. We hope this will be a very transparent website that gives families the chance to have their say."

Anand Shukla, chief executive of the Daycare Trust, said the website offered families an additional source of information.

"Of course parents should also do their own research by talking to their local family information service, visiting a number of settings and reading the Ofsted reports," he said.

"But parents tell us that they really want to know what other parents think. They want to know whether their child will fit in and whether they will be happy. This site allows them to get real opinions from other parents using the setting."

The National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) also welcomed the site, but warned that the controls must be maintained.

NDNA chief executive Purnima Tanuku, said: "Parents already share information about their nursery experiences with friends, family, and via social networking sites and the Good Care Guide will provide another way to do this.

"It is positive that the site links through to Ofsted and it could prove to be a useful resource for parents looking for a high quality nursery in their area.”However, it is imperative that the planned robust controls are maintained to prevent malicious or false reviews being posted which could unnecessarily damage nursery businesses.

"NDNA will stay in touch with members for their feedback on how the Good Care Guide works in practice."

Google can ‘do in’ your brainbox

HERE'S a funny one! Google can atrophy your brain … well apparently it's true, it supplies us with information so quickly that it actually is removing our capacity to think.

The author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicolas Carr claims that the web is depriving our mental faculties of the regular workouts they need.

He claims that the internet means people now find it harder to concentrate, for example when trying to read a book.

Carr says that to improve concentration sites such as Google should be made more difficult to use, which flies in the face of software designers across the cyber world.

Google Instant delivers search results before you finish your entry.

Carr said: "In many ways I admire Google, but I think they have a narrow view of the way we should be using our minds.

"They have this view that everything's about how efficiently you can find that particular bit of information you need – and then move on to the next."

The author singled out Google Books for criticism saying it did not “engage” people “in a long narrative".

And he said that satellite-navigation meant people are forgetting routes they had taken before.

He said that the part of the brain that stores mental images of space is diminished by GPS devices.

A spokesman for Google is quoted as saying: "Web Search is now a fundamental part of peoples' lives. Web users want to find answers to their questions and they want these answers blazingly fast. The faster we can get people to the information they're after, the more time they can spend doing what really matters."

It's only a thought, and some might think I'm being churlish here – but I do think Mr Carr has a point, if we don't have to think as much as we used to then it’s obvious that our thinking muscle will lose strength, become a bit flaccid Google's response to Mr Carr's claims simply says to me that they really don't care about that aspect at all. If we become mindless robots it would suit them fine!