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I Don’t Have a Breaking Point

November 27, 2010

So I got through Thanksgiving with only a 1.8 lb weight gain, cutting my total lost from 18 to 16, but I’m okay with that – smooth sailing from now till Xmas.  The great thing about not having “hundreds of friends in your address book” is that you don’t have to worry about all those fattening holiday parties to go to.

I saw Fair Game yesterday – I’d wanted to see it regardless, but especially after I saw a scene in the previews where she’s curled up on the bed and, talking about the psyops conducted against her when she was in training, she says she thought back then, after “passing” the test, “You can’t break me…I don’t have a breaking point.”  Most of the clips break off there, but in the movie, she follows that with “I was wrong,” because Dick and Karl and the Fox News pretty hate machine tried to manufacture an image of her as an incompetent traitor featherbedding her husband’s nest etc. etc.   As always, of course, those who watch Fox and only Fox believed what they were told (I wonder how very little press this movie is getting there and in the WSJ), but thanks to her decision to fight back, we in the reality based community now know the whole truth.  Still, I think that’s going to be a very famous movie quote, out of context as it will be, for some time to come, because it’s something we all want to believe about ourselves, and sometimes, believing something can help make it so.

There’s an article in the NY Times on Wednesday about Google’s effort to sway users from desktop OS’s to “Google Chrome” – the advantages being near-instant bootup and Internet access, freedom from the tether of a single PC with all your stuff on it, and no more worries about backup or system or software updates.

However, I think this is another instance of everyone at Google looking at everyone else at Google, where everyone has been hired because they’re just like everyone else who’s ever been hired at Google, and cheering each other and themselves for another great idea (“Googly!” “Yeah!”).  Let’s look at what’s wrong with this picture.

First, corporate security.  Google says that

60 percent of businesses could immediately replace their Windows machines with computers running Chrome OS

Well, I’ve worked at a few large corporations, and the one thing that is guaranteed is that the company will put an awful lot of its own security procedures in place on your computer to make sure nobody else can get to their data.  Even if, let’s say for argument, the Three Initial Corporation adopts Chrome for all its users – unless they are incredibly naïve, or firm converts to the religion of Googlyanity, they are not going to let Google or any other corporation host their sensitive data.  They will have to have their own set of servers running Chrome, which then will have to be updated with whatever patches Google releases, after a thorough vetting by their IT departments to make sure Google hasn’t accidentally opened a backdoor to their confidential information.  Then you’re going to have to walk around with an albatross like a Bitlocker key that you need to stick into any computer you use to authenticate yourself.  Then you’re going to have to have some kind of hard drive to run the security software to screen your files for viruses before anything gets up to the server…etc.  The first CIO who hands the keys to the kingdom to Google, then sees their information hacked (as impossible a concept to Googlians as the sinking of the Titanic, which…um…) is going to lose his head.  As anyone who’s had their Gmail account password hacked can tell you, there are no guarantees in the Western world.

Second, Google is succumbing to, let’s call it Corporate Kingdom Creep.  It happens at large corporations, government agencies, etc. 

Google’s hugely successful Android operating system for mobile phones and tablets adds a level to the confusion. Chrome and Android are built by separate Google teams and the company says there is no conflict between the two. But its executives acknowledge they are not entirely sure how the two will coexist.

Microsoft had this problem when it simultaneously developed the Kin and Windows Phone 7 – two kingdoms not talking to each other meant one kingdom had to be destroyed.  In large organizations, this “survival of the fittest” doesn’t always mean the best product wins – sometimes the National Security Advisor is better at internal politics than the Director of the CIA, and it doesn’t matter which one of them is right or has the best intel or the best policy.  Let’s call it Rumsfeldianism, after the man who, standing on top of the dead bodies of soldiers inadequately equipped with body armor and Humvee plating because he wanted to run a tight budget (at least in areas unrelated to Halliburton contracts), crowed “I’m a survivor” after he was unaccountably not fired for incompetence.  Certainly nobody is going to die because a software product fails (unless it fails on the battlefield), so Rumsfeld may be an extreme example, but it does highlight an executive mindset in which one’s own “survival” trumps everything else.  Such petty squabbling is unthinkably un-Googly to those at the top of Google, I’m sure, but it happens nonetheless, and when customer confusion and frustration ensue, well there you go.

Then we come to Google’s biggest blind spot of all – privacy.  Eric Schmidt has famously said that you don’t need privacy if you haven’t done anything wrong, which sounds like something from the mouth of a dictator (or Ari Fleischer).  As I’ve said before, Orderly Marchers have never done anything “wrong” or they wouldn’t be where they are now.  Googlers don’t torrent porn or illegal music, don’t take dirty pictures of themselves, drunken pictures of themselves, or anything else that might mar the Great Transcript that is their lives – even leaking the news of an across the board 10% raise, which is certainly huge enough news to get out anyway, is enough to get you shitcanned.  The rest of us, however, don’t tend to be so “perfect.”  Surrendering all this stuff to the cloud opens a number of doors – first, that it could be hacked by some malevolent individual or group (Impossible?  See under: Titanic).  Second, that it could be misused by Google itself – organizations change, leadership changes, people come and go and die off, and the “next” Google may not be so scrupulous.  Google has already ignored “don’t be evil” and went to China, where it dutifully censored what the Chinese government didn’t want its people to see, and finally left, but only after it became apparent that any pushback from them against government demands would result in systematic assault on Google…which brings us to a third risk:  government seizure (ours or someone else’s) of all that data you’ve stored “in the cloud.”  What happened recently, for instance, during that “18 minute gap” during which a huge amount of Internet traffic was forcibly redirected through China

Finally, what legal obligation will Google have to delete, en masse, all the illicit movie torrents and illegally shared music that Chrome users put on their “disk”?  All it would take would be a single court order requested by the RIAA for a huge number of people to wake up to find their content missing.  Failure to “track” the receipts of every user for the legitimate purchase of every single MP3 in their Google-hosted folder could open the door to Google’s being sued for “harboring fugitives” from piracy laws.  How are they going to work that out?

In the end, the cloud is like 3D – those who create and promote it can’t imagine that there are a significant number of people who don’t like it, won’t ever like it, and will not change to accommodate it.


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