Monthly Archives: August 2017

Google isn’t invincible

There were once a couple of guys (lawyers, I think) who had a clever idea on how to beat the big web near-monopoly: Offer prizes to site users. After all, if you’re going to search for something, you might as well use the site that effectively gives you a free lottery ticket. They took their clever idea to Viacom, and thus began a short-lived partnership.

The site was called iWon. It’s gone now. You might think that means the king of the web can’t be beat. But the king of the web at the time was Google was still just a clever search algorithm. Google is on top now, but that can change.

I use Microsoft’s as my default search-engine. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever use Google, but I’ll always prefer an alternative.

Never trust Google

You may have seen this: One Statistics Professor Was Just Banned By Google: Here Is His Story.

I’ll pause here to say that, although I happen to like ZeroHedge, and often find it fascinating, I very much agree with Tam’s basic point on whackadoodle beliefs.

That being said, their article is an important one. Math professor Salil Mehta had come to rely on Google for its services, including email and data storage, and was then banned. The icing on the cake is that he was running a math site. He doesn’t appear to hold extreme views.

I’m tempted to say what everyone else is saying, but I’ve got a slightly different take. First, businesses shouldn’t be in the habit of policing political views. Twitter went off the rails on this one, and now YouTube (a Google company) is doing the same. They built these businesses by attracting users of all types, basically pretending to be open to almost everyone, and then began tightening the rules when nearing monopoly status. If they wanted to cater to narrower viewpoints then they should have said so earlier.

It would be different if the government had demanded they shut the site down, which is always possible. We don’t really know everything.

But my real point is this:  Don’t put your critical data in Google’s hands.

You don’t know when a policy-change might lock you out. That can happen even when you’re apolitical, but it’s a client who’s attracted the wrong kind of attention. It might not even be a company decision. A company like that must be chock-full of nutcases who think a greater justice could be served by altering your data, if not ruining your day.

Yes, I’m sure they have safeguards. I’m less sure that they don’t have backdoors.


Indian business-site OfficeChai does a piece on this, basically telling the same story, although they do find some political posts giving points to Trump on immigration and the ban on foreign-nationals from seven Muslim countries. Not entirely apolitical, but it’s hard to believe that’s the reason Dr. Mehta was kicked off the site.

Now ZeroHedge reports that Google changed their minds.

But the lesson remains the same:  Don’t trust Google with your data.

Another telemarketer’s foot in the door

This is clever: Telemarketers know we don’t want to talk to them. Their latest trick is to spoof the caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from a phone number with the same prefix/exchange and area code as yours. They could be calling from anywhere, but you’re more likely to answer if you think it might be a neighbor. And once they have you, you’re more likely to buy. As with spammers, this is a never-ending fight.

I once had an idea for a device that would pick up the telephone on the first ring. It would put the caller on the speaker, but not connect the microphone until you actually pick it up. You’d get to listen to sounds and voices on the other end, but the caller would continue to hear fake ringing as though you hadn’t answered yet. It’s a safe bet that somebody’s already done this.

Yes, this is a mean trick. I never bothered with the idea, although I’ve had modems in the past that could have done it if I’d written the right software. It’s a privacy violation of sorts that I wouldn’t do to a friend. Of course, telemarketers are fair game, but not everyone is.