by Tyler Durden
August 01, 2013
Earlier, we reported the
personal narrative of Michele Catalano who recounted how one day she
found herself face to face with six agents from the joint terrorism task
"Our seemingly innocent, if curious to a
fault, Googling of certain things was creating a perfect storm of
terrorism profiling. Because somewhere
out there, someone was watching. Someone whose job it is to
piece together the things people do on the Internet raised the red flag
when they saw our search history."
The answer of "who" was watching should be
far clearer in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations from the past two
But instead of rehashing the old story of
the NSA intercepting and recording virtually every form of electronic
communication that exists, or ruminating on what filters Ms. Catalano
triggered to lead to this truly disturbing outcome, perhaps a better
question is just what is it that Google
knows about each and everyone who uses its interface daily,
which in this day and age means everyone with a computer.
turns out, pretty much everything.
Here is the thought, and not so "thought"
experiment that the
WSJ's Tom Gara ran yesterday, before Ms.
Catalano's story had hit, to uncover just how rich his informational
tapestry is in the repositories of the firm that once upon a time urged
itself, rhetorically, to "not be evil."
Letís run through a little thought
Imagine thereís a list somewhere that
contains every single webpage you have visited in the last five years.
It also has everything you have ever searched for, every address you
looked up on Google Maps, every email you sent, every chat
message, every YouTube video you watched.
Each entry is time-stamped, so
itís clear exactly, down to the minute, when all of this was done.
Now imagine that list is all searchable. And
imagine itís on a clean, easy-to-use website. With all that imagined,
can you think of a way a hacker, with access to this, could use it
youíve imagined all that, go over to
google.com/dashboard, and see it
all become reality.
For a piece complementing todayís story on
Google and privacy by the WSJís Amir Efrati, I took a deep dive into
Google Dashboard, a kind of Grand Central Terminus for all the
information the company has stored on you. Itís a truly amazing amount,
especially if, like me, you have been a heavy Gmail user since its
launch in 2004.
As long as you are logged into Gmail, or any
other Google account, the company isnít just keeping track of how you
use its own service - itís noting every site you visit on the web.
snapshot of the kind of data we found on my Google Dashboard, put
together as a graphic for todayís newspaper. It includes my 64,019
Google searches, and 134,966 Gmail conversations.
The snapshot in question:
Gara's purely theoretical ruminations continue:
The idea that all of this data exists as a
mass of ones and zeros deep in a server farm in California, being
studied by disinterested robots to serve up better search results and
more relevant ads, is something most of us can process in the abstract.
But the fact that it is all viewable right
now, on a user-friendly Web page complete with its own search service
(yes, you can run Google searches on your own web history), is something
For example, I searched for every website Iíve ever
visited containing the word ďoctopus.Ē And yes, the results were
course, if somebody else managed to access my Google Dashboard - and the
chances of this happening are well above zero - they could search for
things far less innocent than an eight-tentacled sea creature.
possibilities seem endless, from digital blackmail to much deeper forms
of identity theft.
Or six joint terrorism task force agents showing
up on your front step just because you googled "pressure cookers."
But wait, there's more.
Because it is not just the NSA, and its
downstream enforcement tentacles, that has open access to the informational
nexus that is Google and its "Don't be evil" creed.
So does the FBI.
WSJ is again on the trail.
Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are
expanding the use of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather
information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber
Federal agencies have largely kept quiet
about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people
involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools,
including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web
links - techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.
People familiar with the Federal Bureau of
Investigation's programs say that the use of hacking tools under court
orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new
communications technology, including some types of online chat and
encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can't be
wiretapped like a phone, is called "going dark" among law enforcement.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to
FBI develops some hacking tools internally and purchases others from the
private sector. With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate
the microphones in phones running Google Inc.'s Android software to
record conversations, one former U.S. official said.
It can do the same
to microphones in laptops without the user knowing, the person said.
Google declined to comment.
There is more but the gist is clear:
seemingly ridiculous surveillance methods used by Jack Bauer and countless
other fictional characters... they were all too real.
Just as real, in fact, as
the Big Brother
predicted by George Orwell (read
1984) so many years ago.
And just as real, although we
will need another
Edward Snowden to reveal it, as the modern-day equivalent
of Room 101.