The Persecution Of Google’s Eric Schmidt

There is now a follow-up to this article: The Return Of The Google Stalker

Schmidt, left, with Brin and Page
It is possible that they hired him to *look* evil though (Schmidt, left, with Brin and Page)

I’ve had unkind things to say in the past about Google, in particular executive chairman Eric E. Schmidt. Along with many others, I have – possibly unfairly – suggested that his attitude towards privacy rights might not be all it should.

I have never accused him of murder though. You have to give me that.

Eric Schmidt is being cyberstalked. No, that would be to aggrandize it. Someone is comment-spamming Eric Schmidt. Virtually anywhere Schmidt is mentioned, a Chinese guy calling himself Peter Cao comes to accuse him (and Stanford Professor of Artificial Intelligence Sebastian Thrun) of being involved in the murder and/or cover-up of the murder of May Mengyao Zhou, a Stanford graduate student whose suspicious death was ruled suicide. His accusations however lack… credibility. To say the least. Taken from the above links:

Eric Schmidt represents and is backed up by some mafia like dark force which tend to resovle their problems with killing power. Threatening my life with May Zhou’s case is not the only time, Schmidt’s side had actually plotted a murder on me during his fight with authorities and would have wiped me out, though it was crashed by securities in time, and that’s why he was removed from his CEO position. [Red text in the original]

Cao never seems to rest. Do a search on the terms “Peter Cao” “Eric Schmidt” and there are countless (highly repetitive) examples of his accusations. Is there any substance to them? Well, personally, I am strongly persuaded that the guy is an utter fruitbat. Here’s a glimpse of how he sees himself (which perhaps also reveals his motivation):

Google’s ambition in China is not limited in business. Google tried to act as a flagship of foreign powers to rival Chinese authorities on Chinese territory. Even till today, google still arrogantly places itself hight and lofty above Chinese people over its existence in China.
In the past, Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt had backed up crimes against me, and had threatened my life with the mysterious death of very innocent people in Stanford in that case. I defeated Schmidt at authorities in this case and got him down from his CEO position. I could tell Google would be eventually terminated and kicked out of in China if Google executives refuse to ‘change stance on China’.

To make a bad situation worse, it appears someone responded to his comments on Business Insider by registering under the name Eric Schmidt and trolling the crazy guy (See comments):

Peter. It’s me, Eric. I thought we already talked about this. I am going to squash you like a bug if you keep posting on this comment board. What you don’t know (but surely suspected) is that the video cameras I installed in your house are allowing me to track everything you do. In fact, I am live streaming your pathetic life, including all the insane searches you do about my home address and love interests, to all my friends on the Stanford faculty. Next I will bring in my mafia-like dark killing power to bear.

I think most of us would assume that was not the real Schmidt… On what appears to be his blog however, Cao has taken the threat as vindication.

I report all this not because I think it’s amusing (though shamefully, I do), but out of a rather morbid fascination. Paranoid delusion is in the air right now as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches. Fantasies of persecution – whether those of the deniers, or those of the attackers themselves – have the power to change the world. And recently it feels a lot like the mad are winning.

It’s All Meme Meme Meme

"O frly?", the (official) free softw...
This is a meme

Gawker have a point. (OK, I check out Gawker occasionally. I’m not proud.) Lazy television producers getting segments – sometimes whole shows – out of the latest Internet “craze”, which generally was over before the segment started and lasted about as long. The “meme“. (Whatever you think of Richard Dawkins, his concept did not deserve this ignominious end.) Here’s a rule which I think the producers needs to understand: If you hear about an internet meme via any medium except the Internet, it is already over.

These things were only really funny when it seemed like they were special, hidden from the rest of the world by a veil of shared cultural reference. But now the Internet is indistinguishable from other media. Everything blends together and becomes brown plasticine. It doesn’t feel like a separate and more mysterious world anymore. It’s as if the process started in September 1993, when the Internet was opened to the public, has finally reached completion.

This is what some people have said about Google+ in fact, that while it’s still in semi-closed testing (you need an invite to join) there is a standard of good behaviour and quality of discussion there that you just don’t get on other bits of the Net anymore. And as Google+ gives you more control over who you hear from and are heard by than other online social networks, there is some hope that it might stay that way.

But then you have the opposite problem. When the Internet was new it may have only been small, but it was global. Now, it’s fragmenting into a great many personal networks. By language, by country, by age, by interest, by taste. All of them separate.

And all of them of course policed – by commercial interest and by government – instead of being a self-policing community.

We need a new Internet. Anyone know anything about wiring?

Another Google+ Bug

Nude Sea Sirens
I can't find any relevant image for this article, so here is a completely irrelevant Russian mercouple

I didn’t speak too soon anyway. The Dow just fell off. Well, had its worst plunge since the crash of 2008. Double-dip recession then? I think that’s far too complacent – why the hell should it stop at two? All we’ve seen since 2008 is an economic system trying to get up off the canvas. It’s not getting up.

But sorry, back to Google+. It’s a bit unfair of me to call it a bug, but “An Aspect Of Google+ Which Users Coming From Facebook May Find Misleading” just doesn’t cut it as a headline. Blame the sub-editors. This isn’t entirely Google’s fault, but I think they need to do something about it.

A lot of people coming to Google+ have prior experience of social networking on Facebook. And when I say “a lot”, I mean “all of them, basically”. So there is a natural tendency to think of someone adding you to their circles as analogous to a friend request. If you have reason to think they’re kosher, you’ll probably add them back. But what if you don’t immediately recognise the name? Speaking for myself it could still easily be someone whose name I’ve forgotten, someone I know by an online name, a friend of a friend. So what I do is see what friends they have in common with me; that almost always makes the relationship obvious.

When someone adds you on Google+ you can see the “People in common” they have with you. If there are a lot, your automatic assumption might be that you should know this person. But unlike FB where relationships are agreed by both parties, being in a circle in G+ is of course only one-way, much like being followed on Twitter. So when someone has a lot of “People in common” with you, all it could mean is that they first added one person you know, and then added all their friends.

It happened yesterday among my peer group – people started asking each other “Does anyone actually know X?” We eventually figured out that X was a fake friend. (Oh and Google? He had a perfectly realistic name and profile.) I would guess people are doing this exactly so that they might be mistaken for friends and added – whereupon they can find out more about you, spam you perhaps, misrepresent themselves even. It’s a new type of insidious social network penetration – we could call it “encircling”.

How can Google make this less likely to succeed? I think “People in common” is a misleading label – indeed, a misleading categorisation. It’s really only “People X has in circles who are in your circles”. There should also be a category “People in your circles who have X in circles.” If the latter group is far smaller than the former, you’ll know immediately that something is up.

Google Reacts To Pseudonym Anger

Google's homepage in 1998
Simpler Times

Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior VP of social stuff, described closing the Google+ accounts of pseudonym users as: “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”

I respectfully suggest that it’s a little more like throwing them out of your restaurant, and then burning their houses down. Google deny that they will close down your Google Profile solely for infringement of the no-pseudonyms rule, calling it a “myth”, but it does seem they single out obvious pseudonyms for closer examination and can shut them down for other, unspecified reasons. GrrlScientist, whom I quoted yesterday, only regained access to Docs, Gmail etc. at Google’s pleasure and upon giving them her personal phone number. And no, they still won’t let her use Google+, and they still haven’t told her why.

However they have listened to the outrage, reacted quickly, and promised some improvements (same source):

- Giving these users a warning and a chance to correct their name in advance of any suspension. (Of course whenever we review a profile, if we determine that the account is violating other policies like spam or abuse we’ll suspend the account immediately.)

- At time of this notice, a clear indication of how the user can edit their name to conform to our community standards

- Better expectation setting as to next steps and timeframes for users that are engaged in this process.

Maybe they know what they mean by the last one, I have no idea. However, the others are at least an improvement. If it’s not churlish of me though, I do think that not confiscating what you might rightfully consider your private property without prior notice is the very least they can do.

This is something Google really need to get straight, fast. How can their Docs be considered a rival to Microsoft’s Office if they have some ownership rights over anything you create with them? Imagine how quickly Microsoft’s business would cease to exist if they zapped documents made with pirated copies of Office. It’s unthinkable. Just as what Google did was unthinkable – until they did it. If documents aren’t sacrosanct, the whole Docs-Chrome-Cloud business model evaporates.

Maybe this is the time to consider Diaspora again?

Google+ Is A Trap

Google Docs – You create them, but they don’t belong to you

Not two months ago, I wrote:

…Google’s answer to this is a fully authenticated Web with no room for anonymity. A friendlier place for commerce and policing for sure, but obviously an unsafe one for the sort of political organisation we’ve seen in the Middle East recently. You may have noticed how it gets harder all the time to open a Google account. Last time I created one, I had to give them a mobile phone number. How long before it’s an iris scan?

With Google+, the straitjacket of authentication has perceptibly tightened. As Guardian blogger GrrlScientist discovered to her cost, it’s a little-known term of service that a Google Profile (which you need for any personalised Google service, not just Google+) must be in your own, real, everyday name. She has just found that all her Google services – Gmail, Reader, Blogger, Google Documents, YouTube, Google Plus – have been taken away, with apparently no recourse to appeal.

Have you created a Google Profile? (I know I have, but I don’t remember doing it. I just thought I was signing up to use Gmail.) If it isn’t in your real name, if it’s in a nickname, a pen name, the name of an alter ego or game character or a name you had to make up because your real one was gone already, then Google can take it away too.

How much could you lose, if Google suddenly decided to throw you into the outer darkness? More than you might easily imagine, as this similar case makes clear:

Now he had pretty much converted everything to Google services. He used its storage (and paid for extra capacity), used its social network, used its email and used its applications. He is a grad student and had more than 500 articles cached for research in his Google reader (gone); he had migrated all of his bookmarks to Google bookmarks (gone); he had consolidated on Google his 200 contacts (gone), his backup files (gone) and his docs (gone).

The guy even put all of his calendar items (doctors’ appointments, meetings, dates) onto Google, and they are now gone. He had used Google Maps extensively, and all of those records are gone. Oh — and it isn’t just access to new items either. His entire mail account and documented history have been deleted.

[Read the victim’s own testimony here]

Your documents, your emails, your pictures, your contacts – you life, dammit. If you have an Android Phone as well, I imagine you’re pretty much screwed. And let’s be perfectly clear, these people didn’t do anything wrong using their Google Profiles. Merely breaking an obscure term of an agreement they were in all probability barely aware of making has allowed Google to trash their online lives – and shatter their trust in one of the world’s most powerful companies.

Why would Google be so draconian, withdrawing their useful – for many now, almost essential – services for what seem arbitrary reasons? It is because they don’t want just to be service providers. Google see how they can be gatekeepers of an authenticated, business-friendly, government-friendly Web, one where your every move is – quite legally – observed and documented, where your online persona is precisely riveted to your real-world identity. An Internet, in other words, where everybody knows you’re a dog.

Now combine that with the same ubiquity and penetration into your personal life as Facebook or Twitter, combine it with the fact that you are happily providing Google with information about the people you know, by dividing them into different categories of trust, genetic kinship, etc., and you begin to wonder what you’re getting into.

But it’s clear what Google are. They’re getting into the business of delivering authenticated identities. You could call it policing.

First Impressions of Google+

The Google+ Profile Page

After using Google+ for a couple of days, it becomes clear that this is far more than a mere carbon copy of Facebook.

It also rips off Twitter, not to mention Diaspora.

To put it more positively, Google have clearly looked long and hard at what social networking does and why it caught on in the way it did. They’ve attempted to combine the best features of both Facebook and Twitter into one product.

The base is very much like an improved version of Facebook with a more open, airy look and no hint of anything that might be construed as fine print.

The differences begin with how people connect. While Facebook is all about equal two-way relationships confirmed by both parties, in Google+ you can follow anyone and read what they share – as long that is as they’re sharing it with the public. In this way it is almost exactly like Twitter.

From there though the user has the option of allowing you into a more intimate ‘Circle’. This is exactly the same idea as ‘Aspects’ in Diaspora. You can make separate circles for work colleagues, family, clients, etc. So you can decide exactly who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, and who gets to see the picture of you drinking beer, naked, with your swastika tattoo showing.

Complicated? Well, any social networking system is. Even something as apparently straightforward as Twitter quickly gets confusing in use, as you try to figure out the consequences of one ill-judged tweet being retweeted by two or three people. (One interesting aspect of Google+ is that you can mark things as non-shareable, which is very reassuring.) It is however a fundamentally more simple model than that of Facebook.

Does it add anything new to social networking? Facebook and Twitter are distinctly different, and it would be nice to see a third innovative approach. But while it may be a little to early to say – both the others developed in unpredicted ways and Google+ may yet – it really doesn’t seem to. Quite clearly, Google+ is just the main features of Facebook and Twitter combined and cleaned up.

Which is not, to my mind, a good thing. With Google’s wealth and resources behind it, (not to mention the fact that it integrates right in with your Google search results, your Gmail, etc.), it’s really possible that Google+ will take over the markets that these upstarts created. Rather than adding to the possibilities of social networking therefore it may actually reduce them, in the process giving even greater dominance of the Internet to the company that already bestrides it like a colossus.

But even if comes about such dominance is still a long way off, and for now I like the interface and the control, and I like the fact that Facebook has a competitor. I therefore wish Google+ good fortune and success. Just, you know, not too much good fortune and success.

If you’d like an invite to join Google+, or are already there and would like to follow me on it, my address is: Richard.Chapman@Gmail.com