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October 17, 2004


Posted by dymaxion at 10:28 AM

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What's in those Google Goggles?

Here in Dymaxia we sometimes try to keep the lid on our paranoid side by humming to ourselves "tomorrow, tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow". But having been weaned on "1984" and "Brave New Worlds" and being somewhat addicted to the writings of Horseman Fat (otherwise known as the science fiction writer Philip K Dick) we all too easily fall back into a major funk. Having written a somewhat tongue in cheek piece on getting one's own personal RFID Jammer and finding that it's become one of our top 5 all time hits, we can assume that we're not the only afflicted ones out there.

This was the week, after all, in which the FDA approved the RFID powered human implant that will allow citizens to carry their medical records (and God knows what else) around with them safely tucked under the skin. It was also the week that Google took one step further into the realm of --to paraphrase another of our happy tunes-- "getting to know all about you".

So we've been a bit taken aback by the near silence, at least, so far from our more astute friends on the privacy watch regarding Google's latest release of desktop search software that offers as a download for personal use Google's (GOOG) magical algorithms to index the data stored on one's own hard-drive as well (get this) as the footprints one leaves in one's journeys around the web (this is limited to Explorer for now) . The complete Google user can now have --perhaps inadvertently (see Google's privacy policy below and follow the link to their Desktop Search FAQ)-- not only their GMail (Google's Hotmail killer 1 Gb online mailbox) data scooped into the giant Google index but also their privately stored desktop files. If this doesn't have an Orwellian twang to it, we don't know what does.

In case you haven't noticed, Google(GOOG) has already changed your life, no doubt for the better, through the ease of use in which they've allowed you to put all kinds of necessary info at your fingertips. Anyone who writes, researches, or just plain wants to know where the nearest Dairy Queen is, is likely to have benefited mightily from the little seach engine that could. We can remember having wide-eyed discussions back in the mid 80's about the potential of a CD-ROM containing an entire encyclopedia of information. But it wasn't until AltaVista and Open Text got their crawlers out scraping the nascent Internet that the possibilities of a Google-like universal library came into real focus.

But there is a dark side to the Google phenomenon that may or may not have yet struck you directly. Imagine being googled by other party goers prior to your next festivity. Does that sound farfetched? I doubt it. How about going for a job interview or even sending out a resume'. Is it not already normal practice for a screener or interviewer to Google you long before you get an offer? How about googling or being googled by your next date or all the members of your at-work team and anybody else with your name and a curiosity?

And so it is not just the policiticans who have to guard for candor in every public remark they make; it is a simple fact of life that we now all leave indelible tracks across the web. One can only imagine how many pleas Google gets every day by someone trying to erase or get lowered something that now no longer fits into their lifestyle. It's now part of our new public/private persona. So don't attend any event you wouldn't want a potential suitor, employer/ee, inlaw etc. to know about. Don't publish anything in print or on the web that might put you in an embarrassing position. If you're being a little too revealing, stay away from people with cellphones who may be moblogging in near real time the party or event you're participating in. Do you like to talk dirty or tell off color jokes to small groups of intimates? ....Better check to see they are not podcasting you.....

When Google announced their GMail service we got a little wary. Sure they were giving you everything that Hotmail seemed to have gotten all wrong but they were also getting the privilege of indexing everything in your email in and out box. Sure, there are privacy assurances that allow them to datamine your email without linking your identity. And the same holds true, see below, when it comes to the desktop tool. All your personal data will be indexed locally and none of the really personal stuff will be linked in any way, they assure you. For trusting but security minded sophisticated users, these safeguards may be sufficient, though we don't think so.

Google, the guys with the goggles, are supposed to be white hats. Good guys who are doing things differently, who are full of good intentions and the moral fiber that was so lacking in most dotcom enterprises where competitive edge trumped all. Can anyone imagine letting Microsoft index their online emails, their desktop hard drives and the footprints your browser leaves as you move around the infosphere?

We listen a little harder when engaged in chitchat at networking events. What does he or she already know? Is there something more than innocent conversation in that question? And so, as much as we'd like a fast way to search those 40 gigs of private space around us, we'll wait for a decidedly more hermetic tool. Once again we'll say, caveat emptor, even, or especially because it's free, tempting and assures that you're in control!


Google Desktop Search Privacy Policy

Here's an excerpt:

Your computer's content is not made accessible to Google or anyone else without your explicit permission.

For more information about what Google Desktop Search can do, please see the Product FAQ.

What information does Google receive?

By default, Google Desktop Search collects a limited amount of non-personal information from your computer and sends it to Google. This includes summary information, such as the number of searches you do and the time it takes for you to see your results, and application reports we'll use to make the program better. You can opt out of sending this information during the installation process or from the application preferences at any time.

Personally identifying information, such as your name or address, will not be sent to Google without your explicit permission.

Posted by dymaxion at 10:24 AM

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October 02, 2004


Posted by dymaxion at 11:04 AM

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A Tale of Two Cities

Here's how the Wikipedia begins its definition of oligopoly: "An oligopoly is a market form in which a market is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). The word is derived from the Greek for few sellers. Because there are few participants in this type of market, each oligopolist is aware of the actions of the others. Oligopolistic markets are characterized by interactivity. The decisions of one firm influence, and are influenced by, the decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists always involves taking into account the likely responses of the other market participants."

When Congress granted major league baseball(MLB) immunity from antimonopoly laws many years ago, they could hardly have dreamed of a day when a major league baseball owner would be able to blithely negotiate himself a deal that could indirectly transfer hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money into his bank account. But that's what it took to get Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to agree to allow major league baseball to move a money losing franchise from isolated Montreal to the fecund clime of the nation's capital.

As a result, it now looks like Congress may have to immunize the owners from the RICO Act first put in place against organized crime and recently used in the Enron case and other massive corporate fraud cases.

The long anticipated announcement came this week that Baseball had chosen to move the hapless Expos to Washington, DC where Mayor Anthony Williams has put together an offer of at least $440 million dollars --it'll probably cost far more-- for a taxpayer financed (but not owned) stadium plus the surrounding infrastructure. Negotiations to get a new home for the Expos have been in progress for years.

Washington, of course, is a no-brain choice for a team site for a number of compelling economic and symbolic reasons. Besides being the nation's Capital, it is at the heart of a fast growing economy, spurred by a shift in government spending that has increased federal employment but also fattened the coffers of the Beltway Bandits, or corporate contracting firms that have mushroomed around the Administration's thrust towards outsourcing government jobs. In addition to the subsidy, Baseball will get entry into one of the nation's leading TV markets, a new riverside stadium with visually sexy camera angles on the Capitol and the Washington Monument and a rabid sports base that has made the pale Washington Redskins the most profitable team in the NFL.

The deal had to be rushed to completion after recent DC City Council primary elections in which three incumbents who supported the baseball package were, in effect, ousted by candidates who said they were against the $440 million taxpayer subsidies. There will be a general election on November 2nd but the outcome of that election is a mere formality. However, from a timing perspective, the new Council members won't be sworn in until January.

The Mayor has held up his plan as being citizen tax-neutral by levying a $22 million special tax on the city's 2,000 largest businesses. Another $15 million a year will come from revenues raised through tickets, hotdogs and parking taxes. Although the details of the plan have not been released to the public yet, it appears that although the City will pay for the stadium it will not own it, nor will it own any part of the team nor will it even have even a piece of the lucrative naming rights to the stadium.

In context, it has to be noted that Washington suffers from some of the worst performing public education, safety and health systems in the country. A school house located just several blocks from where BlowBack is being written, has rotting boarded over windows ; another, closer by, in violation of the City's lead paint laws, hasn't been given a facelift in living memory. City leaders who might have tapped the 2000 largest businesses in DC, among them many of the most powerful lobbying firms in the world, for more money to bring to the capital's citizens, have instead opted for the glamour of going major league, as if Washington DC wasn't in many ways already the world's capital. Ironically, one of the contributors to the Baseball tax is Fannie Mae, by far the City's largest corporate entity. We say, ironically, because Fannie Mae, presently enmeshed in a major scandal for the way it has been cooking its books to favor multimillion dollar bonuses for its top managers, is--even though it's traded publicly-- technically a federal agency, making it exempt from paying any regular taxes to the City.

A case of noblesse oblige? or rather the position of Franklin Raines, its CEO, who just happens to be a member of the group that plans to buy the Baseball team? Raines, who has banked millions since he got to Fannie Mae, is only a minor piker compared to Peter Angelos, the Orioles' owner. As our compatriot, dymaxion, wrote earlier in the "Senators and the Cosa Nostra", Angelos has been sitting in the catbird seat when it comes to this deal.

Baseball had to move out of Montreal where they were drawing an average of 8,000 fans per game. They might have chosen Portland or Las Vegas or Northern Virginia. But tax-adverse Virginia was not going to throw real public money at them the way Mayor Williams did, Vegas had its gambling problems and liberal Portland is just not Dickensonian enough . Also, Baseball has learned from Anaheim, Oakland and Arlington, Texas that suburban stadiums just don't have the same cache' as ballparks surrounded by photogenic urban backdrops.

But the path to DC had to go through Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles because in the oligopoly that is MLB, the owners are all powerful. They are protected from the FTC's antimonopoly laws and nobody has proposed bringing in the Feds with RICO.

So it came as no surprise today when Thomas Heath and Lori Montgomery writing in The Washington Post (free reg req) revealed that the other owners have agreed to guarantee a price tag of almost $200 million more for his team than he paid for it 11 years ago. In addition, according to the article, "Angelos would also receive 60 percent of the revenue from a potentially lucrative regional sports network and MLB would guarantee that Orioles' revenue would never fall below an average of what they earned before the Expos moved here, sources said."

Angelos was the head of a group that bought the team for $173 million back in 1993. Through this EXPOS deal he has now bought himself an insurance policy that not only protects him from the increased competition of a rival business down the road but also from the general decline in popularity that baseball has suffered in recent years. If the deal goes down as stated in The WP article, there is nothing to keep Angelos from cutting back on player salaries, siphoning off whatever immediate revenues he can pocket from loyal fans and putting the team on the block just before the bottom falls out.

Yes, Congress has immunized Baseball from real competition and turned the national pastime into the home of the national kleptocracy but can Congress protect Baseball from itself.

Note that this was the week in which Congress voted overwhelmingly to repeal all of DC's gun laws. If the Bill got through the Senate it would be possible for DC residents to own and carry handguns and even assault rifles. That, it appears is how Congress proposes the citizens get to defend themselves from the sports/congressional complex.

Posted by Pasquino at 10:22 AM

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