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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

dixe.jpgI don't know if such things occur around your house, but the other day at my averagely-appointed one-bedroom East London dwellspot of reveries (do get in touch if you need somewhere for the Olympics), I was doing some hoovering when I accidentally sucked up a kleenex that had somehow got itself sellotaped to a biro. It was a coming together of genericised trademarks of Brobdingnagian proportions and, frankly, I don't think the flat or I have been the same since. (By the way, did you know that pharmaceutical firm Bayer had to give up their trademarks on Aspirin and Heroin as part of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles? No, me neither.)
I was, however, relieved that this maelstrom of brand-names-now-used-to-encompass-an-entire-genre-of-thing did not include one of my least favourite additions to the family, viz, 'to google'.

All right, so Google currently accounts for nearly 90% of all web searches around the globe. But being the paranoid anti-corporation fret-machine that I am, I've boycotted the search engine and its information-retaining ways for some years now, preferring the cheekily named Scroogle, a search engine created to highlight the dubious practices of Google and to allow surfers to make searches without having cookies implanted in their computers or having the details of those searches stored ad infinitum. Sadly, following a torrent of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, Scroogle was forced to close. Save your tears - I now use gibiru.com and duckduckgo.com, neither of which feel the need to harvest information about me.

Of course, not using Google is an art, since it owns Youtube, Chrome, Android and, of course, Google+ (remember that?), Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Street View.

And it's a recent report by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about Street View that should make us all a bit concerned about this behemoth of many tentacles (I'm assuming here that such a creature is biologically possible). Do you remember when it was discovered that Street View cars had been collecting data from unsecured wifi routers at the same time as taking photos? Back then Google said it had happened erroneously.

According to the FCC, that was a bit of a fib. The Google engineer who created the software for Street View cars did in fact design it to collect and analyse data for possible use in future Google products.

Our Information Commissioner is considering investigating whether Google contravened the Investigatory Powers Act. No one's holding their breath, however - when it came to light that Google had kept personal data despite having said it hadn't, the ICO merely told them to delete it.

'Don't be evil,' is Google's somewhat notorious motto. Perhaps if they changed it to 'Don't attempt to become omniscient,' they might do both themselves and us a favour. 

Dixe Wills