Posts Tagged Google
This piece is primarily a compilation of comments & observations by me on a social media network, in response to a post of the subject. Some additional links, images and facts have been included to round off the comments & observations made earlier.
The smartphone revolution got kickstarted really when Apple came out with its first iPhone running on a O.S. it named iOS. The first iPad followed soon after and the history of mobile devices changed radically thereafter. Android, at that point in time was just another Google acquisition as far back as 2005, which had developed an open-source O.S. for mobile phones but had failed to find too many takers. As a matter of fact, the smartphone revolution was still some years away.
Flash forward to the present scenario, where, as far as market shares are concerned, Android commands a share of about 85% globally, leaving iOS to be a niche player and reducing Windows to being virtually no player at all with a paltry market share of 2.5%. A good part of iOS’ global market share is courtesy the U.S. which still remains the largest single country market for smartphones globally and where, though Android occupies pole position with 51.5%, iOS is not too far behind with 42.4% market share. So, while Android-based smartphones rule the roost globally, Apple remains very much an American phenomena still & since they don’t have the kind of fragmentation Android has had, over the years, many developers in the U.S. still prefer developing their app on the iOS platform first.
While the reasons for this can be many, it’s worthwhile looking back at the history of it all. Firstly, Android being open source & free built up the perception that it’s a cheap product. Secondly, Android couldn’t find any major takers initially since the smartphone hardware, as we know it today hadn’t quite evolved yet and Nokia, which was the dominant player in feature phones during the pre-smartphone era, wasn’t keen on taking on anything beyond its own S40, Maemo, Meego & Symbian. Consequently, when the iPhone / iOS first made its appearance, it had a virtual free run for a while in the smartphone market. Hence, in the U.S. market, they had a headstart in terms of market share & later, the number of Apps in the Apple store, which were responsible largely for the iPhone really taking off.
The early adopters of Android, primarily Samsung, HTC & LG, had few options in terms of O.S. since the iOS operated in a closed environment and since Apple was in no mood to license it to any third party. While Apple had beautifully positioned itself at the top end of the market, the Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese & Chinese manufacturers who wanted to foray into the smartphone market, found Android particularly convenient since it was open-source and free.
Lastly, as you may have noticed, none of the major companies. producing Android based smartphones – Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony & now even Motorola / Lenovo – are American companies. so possibly some good old xenophobia & national pride has been at work in the preference for iPhones by a fairly sizeable section of the U.S. smartphone market. Many Americans, who can afford it, would rather patronize Apple than any of these Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese or Chinese manufacturers.
As has been rightly pointed out, Android smartphones have largely failed to displace Apple’s firm grip at the top end of the smartphone pyramid. This is also evident from the fact that the iPhone continues to bring in nearly two-thirds of Apple’s profits even now, leading to Apple’s market capitalization remaining impressive despite the flagging sales of iPad tablets & Macs. It must be said though, that while Apple is no great innovator when it comes to software, in iOS, most basic functions & utilities come shrink-wrapped which can be comforting and reassuring for the average customer who is not quite tech-savvy.
The Nexus 6 from Google, manufactured by Motorola/ Lenovo, is Google’s first attempt to break into the top-end of the smartphone pyramid. Also, Motorola/ Lenovo is possibly trying to make some decent money & cut down its losses with this particular product. Though the Nexus 6’s hardware specs together with Android 5.0, (Lollipop) beats the iPhone 6 Plus hardware & iOS8 hands down, it is doubtful whether their pricing strategy for the Nexus 6 will work, particularly at a time when prices of Android phones are generally on a downward path. Pricing is essentially an outcome of strategy, branding & product positioning and it remains to be seen whether Google is able to make the top-end of the market perceive that the Nexus 6 is an all round superior product to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus at a price which is still lower than theirs.
For those interested in the gory details of the two different products referenced here, take the jump to the reviews for each of them that you see below.
The Rupert Murdoch owned WSJ recently came out with an article alleging that Google had been violating the privacy of millions of users using Apple’s browser, Safari. The full article can be read here.
Even before the dust had settled on this one, Microsoft came out swinging, alleging that Google may have been doing the same for their browser, Internet Explorer also. Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate VP, IE, came out with this blog post.
The hard facts, as so well compiled & expressed by Anthony Fawcett are as follows:
For a start, no, they didn’t violate privacy law. None of what they did has any effect for users that do not opt in for the cross domain services, which require cookies to operate – which is what this is all about. The cookies expire in 24 hours or when the browser is closed. The cookies contain no personal identifiable data, nothing more than an authentication state and a session ID. So let’s stop with the whole “privacy abuse” thing. Let’s also stop with the whole “tracking me” thing, a 24 hour/session cookie cannot be used for any kind of effective tracking – which was never the intent.
The only browser in the world that still cares about P3P policies is IE. Every other browser manufacturer dropped support for this years ago. It’s buggy, badly designed, poorly implemented, and does nothing to provide actual privacy protection but like “affiliate signing” allows sites to lie about the purposes of cookies and to bypass your regular cookie settings and get special treatment. No one uses P3P except where you need cross domain services and you need to support IE6 with them (since literally, it’s pretty much the only way to get IE6 to consistently store cookies when working cross domain).
Google services give IE a compact P3P policy header which tells the browser to ignore P3P settings for cookie restriction. This lets Google do cross domain services on Microsoft’s broken and bug ridden browser suite.
If Google didn’t do this you would not be able to use cross domain G+ services without lowering your overall privacy setting or adding a cookie rule exception for every service.
IE – as the only browser that implements P3P – is the only browser that requires a doctored P3P policy to do this. Even Facebook does exactly the same thing!
Now if you want to talk Safari, it’s the same situation – only there isn’t even the option to use a P3P policy. Safari’s cookie settings are a joke and a usability/privacy protection nightmare.
Do you know that Facebook does EXACTLY the same thing so that people can “Like” other sites? The only real difference is that for Google you OPT-IN to having these features on, whereas Facebook just does it anyway.
So you want to know exactly what data they collected? NONE. Because they weren’t trying to collect data. They were trying to establish a cross domain authentication check so when you like something on the web it registers on your profile. That’s it. No big conspiracy theory. No stealing of the datas. No rifling your private information and transferring it behind your back. Simply working with broken browser implementations to accomplish what the USER actually ASKED them to do.
At what point does one conflate security and privacy? The two are entirely separate and dealt with by entirely separate bodies of law.
P3P is not a security technology, it is not even a privacy technology.
Did you know that no browser other than IE implements support for P3P and that it was actively removed from Mozilla, and never added to Opera, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari (no Safari does not support P3P either). In fact, it’s been recognized as a bad, privacy breaking technology since IE6 first debuted support and broke a slew of web-sites. EPIC calls it “Pretty Poor Policy” ; that’s right the Electronic Privacy Information Centre calls it a really bad policy.
Do you know what it is and why it was invented? It’s a technology that inverts the “trusted network” paradigm to allow affiliate advertises for Microsoft’s networks to place cookies on your computer for tracking purposes even though you’ve disabled 3rd party cookies as a general rule. That’s why it was invented, and why it was implemented in IE. The same reason Microsoft gave priority passage to your inbox for spam email from their marketing affiliates in Hotmail.
A cookie is not a program that uploads datas on you, it is not like Path transmitting your entire iPhone address book to remote servers without your knowledge and beyond your control. It’s a text file. It contains text. It usually contains less than 50 characters of text. It’s used to persist information on your computer, not take it away. For instance, it allows application developers to record the fact that you are logged in, and an id to reference your session, which is what Google uses it for. This is necessary because HTTP itself is what we call a “stateless” protocol. It has no memory between requests. To get around this and make applications, developers use a server side construct called a ‘session’ that acts as a bag to hold information in between requests. The ‘bags’ are labelled with securely (on good implementations) generated IDs, so they can be told apart. Only, because HTTP itself is stateless, the server cannot tell which ‘bag’ is yours, it needs to know your ID. The HTTP protocol provides a mechanism to send a cookie with each request, and developers store the needed ID in just such a cookie. When the server receives it, it can identify your bag. Bingo, session-based activities are now possible such as playing games, shopping with a shopping cart and so on.
There is only one problem though. The security implementation around cookies to prevent people stealing them and using them for impersonation and session hijacking (getting access to your ‘bag’) means that only cookies from the same server you are visiting can be read and written. This throws a spanner in the works when two services hosted on different domains need to work together. The server you are accessing gets what is called “first party” permissions. It can read and write cookies at will provided you don’t have cookies disabled completely. The second server though cannot write cookies unless you allow third party cookies in your browser settings. Without that permission, the script that runs on the page that provides Facebook’s ‘Like’ button let’s Facebook know that you liked the page. Without that, they can’t update their opengraph records without which they can’t tell Facebook who you are when you click that link.
Nothing Google has done has stolen or has the potential to steal any information from you.
Do YOU have “allow me to +1 sites on the Internet” turned on in your G+ profile (it’s off by default)?
If not, then NO, you were completely unaffected by this. If yes, then YOU EXPLICITLY TOLD Google to do this
If you turned that feature on, in Safari, you have 2 ways for it to work,
1. You disable all cookie protection
This may be a bad option if you believe that cookie restriction is a measure for enhancing privacy?
2. You open a new frame and send the information you need directly to your own server. Since you are first party where your own server is concerned, this is how it is INTENDED to work. Google can still only read Google’s own cookies containing nothing but what Google wrote there. Google didn’t break anything in the HTTP protocol or any standard to do this.
So why the concern over tracking? Because people don’t understand how this works. If you have 3rd party cookies turned off in Safari you should not have any other Google cookies, so nothing extra would have been sent. The only way you could even have sent your Ad Sense cookie ID is if you had one to start with. And even if you did, and it did get sent, the code that handles the G+ +1 action would not have the slightest interest in it, and would simply discard it. Ad Sense IDs are only any use to the Ad Sense network. And even if it made it as far as the Ad Sense network, it contributes no information because there is no page view information associated with it.
So nothing was stolen, you were not violated, your privacy was not breached. Google simply changed the way they did something to comply with the browser security requirements.
Not doing so, and requiring users to disable all cookie protection to Like or +1 or do any of the plethora of cross domain activities you do without even realizing it when you utilise any of the most popular web applications, would be the only real wrong that could have been perpetrated here.
Here’s a simpler, easier-to-understand explanation for what has been stated above.
Safari as a browser isn’t buggy. However their policy choices are flawed and specifically bad from a security and privacy standpoint.
Someone compared this ‘intrusion’ to a burglar entering your home because he finds the lock to your front door broken. This is a flawed analogy. P3P is optional, and is something the web server elects to participate in or not as the case may be. Very few do at all. However, this isn’t at all like entering someone’s home and making away with his stuff.
It’s more akin to someone coming to my business and saying “Hello, yes, I’d like to make use of your custom service”. I say “Sure, just sign here, okay, I’ll give you a special ID card that will enable you to access the service, but you’ll need to show it to the agent who will be doing the work for you so that he knows you are authorized for it.” Only, your wallet is shut and latched in such a way that you can’t actually add cards to it, so you have to go to Microsoft and have them add the card for you. Being helpful, I am giving you a new card and putting it in your shirt pocket for you and reminding you to show it to the agent whenever you ask for the service.
For Safari it’s slightly different. The lock on your wallet is enchanted so that you can only put and take out ID cards for the address you are currently standing at. You don’t have any control over the wallet except to bust the lock on it and let any and all cards be put in by everyone. So, instead I say “Tell you what, instead of putting the card in your wallet, I’ll make an exception and when you get there just give me a call and I’ll give the number to the agent over the phone, and he can write it on a card for you there and then.
[ Hat tip: Anthony Fawcett for the explanatory content ]
Why do you think the WSJ & Microsoft launched on the finger-pointings and the muttered accusations? I am sure you would be able to come up with a couple of good guesses at least.
(Note: Neither I nor the person whose explanatory content figures here has any professional association with or happens to be an employee of Microsoft, Google, Apple or Wall Street Journal )
This blog piece really supplements the points made in this article (link above ). The points below are essentially to further amplify and expand on the contentions in this piece.
Early adopters will recall Facebook as a rickety, buggy apps which had very few people who had gotten on to the bandwagon and a whole lot more of bugs together with a generally pretty crappy UI. While after the dot.com bust at the beginning of this century, clueless commentators & hapless analysts have been desperate to hype any emerging trend to the skies, Facebook progressed & grew beyond its wildest dreams more because it happened to be in the right place at the right time & owing to the many errors of omission & commission by its forerunners & contemporaries.
All through this spectacular growth story, Facebook kept on playing fast & footloose with the privacy & the needs of some of its serious users. It kept on playing around with its UI, which, despite several makeover attempts, remained crappy & reminded many people of Web 0.5 rather than Web 2.0. It was a hacker’s delight and it put up a brave front every time someone demonstrated the relative ease with which it could be hacked into. It kept on experimenting with the length of texts for posts & comments for posts without so much as a by-your-leave or even a warning to most unsuspecting users. It merrily downgraded photographs uploaded for display, a fact unknown to most of the hordes for whom uploading to Facebook pics of your latest vacation or your dog became a status symbol of sorts.
While Facebook has of late been demonstrating a zeal for real names (because Google+ is a real name network from the time the beta was launched? ) for much of its existence, it didn’t give a damn about who registered on the network, beyond the cursory reminder that pre-teens were not allowed. I know of several people who promptly proceeded to have Facebook accounts for their dogs & cats & even proudly proclaimed the ‘fact’ to their friends. Many others opened multiple accounts on Facebook, under a host of pseudonyms & assumed names and let their ‘special’ friends know which account they used for which purpose (for a hint think Farmville & Cityville and the need to conceal from a certain ‘set’ of friends the fact that one was incurably addicted to it). In any case Facebook didn’t care two hoots about what got on to your Stream from numerous Farmville posts for example, auto-generated when your friends got on to it. Messages & pokes from perfect strangers followed the same pattern. Anybody could write anything on your wall or read your comments to others’ posts in many cases, without you either knowing or being able to do anything about it. Your friends could add you on to any groups they happened to be a part of, without bothering to think whether you may actually be reluctant or unwilling to join a particular group they happen to be part of.
When serious users & geeks raised howls of protest about this, Facebook embarked on the first of its many hamhanded attempts to appease the unhappy & outraged users & introduce controls for users’ accounts & privacy. At times deliberately and, on other occasions, unintentionally, patching & taking care of a particular area of concern seemed to open up new cracks & areas of unhappiness.
Amidst all this, Facebook’s numbers kept growing because for the vast majority of people, privacy, security or poor user UIs & unannounced, ad-hoc restrictions mattered little. Aside from registering one’s dog & cat, it became an online rolodex for many and once its numbers grew beyond a certain threshold, peer pressure ensured that most people felt compelled to open an account on Facebook at least to prove to their friends that they weren’t anti-social in the least and kept themselves abreast of new developments in this ‘digital age’. Some proceeded to ‘befriend’ just about any Johnny who could be found on FB & was willing to be added, thus growing their no. of friends relatively quickly into the high 3-digits category, assuming that this fact alone gave them some kind of a bragging right over their friends whose ‘friend counts’ were nowhere near that. If you have seen posts or comments from anything more than 10% – 15% of your ‘friends’ on Facebook, you must belong to an exceptional minority indeed!
Facebook has from time to time quoted the total no. of people who have registered. Information regarding what percentage or numbers out of these have been dormant and for how long, hasn’t been forthcoming. Whereas e-mail clients knock off users who haven’t had any activity on their account for say 6 months or one year, Facebook never ever knocks off anyone and makes it virtually impossible for anyone to leave even if he or she wants to. It has always been designed to be a one-way street.
There are many who suffered through all the twists & turns of a badly designed & executed app like Facebook simply because by the time they decided it was decidedly crappy and were planning to leave, most of their ‘friends’ had gotten on to it. Added to it was the fact that it was the most visible and high-profile social media platform in most parts of the world and hence there was peer pressure to at least stay on nominally, irrespective of whether one liked or hated the experience. Along the way of course there were the added attractions of games, pages for organizations & businesses and e-commerce among others. Facebook also managed its marketing & media efforts quite well, aside from the misfortune of getting caught out in its efforts to deliberately and, in a sustained way, slander Google.
To use an analogy which will be quite understandable to Indian readers, you don’t start with an Ambassador car and then try to make it into a Honda City say, by periodically tinkering with the carburretor, steering wheel or spark plugs. Despite any tweaks to these subsystems the overall experience would still remain a distinctly unsatisfactory one. Of course from time to time groups of people just switched off & turned to various alternatives and though that outflow has gotten stronger in recent months, overall, it didn’t really matter much. There were always newer markets to conquer & newer people to sucker and, as a result, the total numbers kept growing, albeit at a much slower pace than what had been experienced sometime earlier.
All through this process, Facebook copied bits & pieces from here & there and then once it grew big and attracted major funds, went on a spree acquiring smaller, promising start-ups. It kept tweaking privacy settings, UIs & groups but never ever came up with the big idea or a really innovative one. Copying others has always been its forte which was amply evident when it revamped Groups and made it as close as possible to popular e-groups which had been in existence for ages, with a few more bells & whistles added.
Ergo, its desperate strategy of copying Google+ & Twitter now & remaining relevant & hopefully ahead in the race is nothing surprising. Given its near-total bankruptcy of big ideas & innovative ones, one would in fact have been quite surprised if it hadn’t done so.
In doing so however it has given short shrift to much of its loyal user base. Most of Facebook’s active users aren’t too bothered about privacy & possibly quite like the idea of broadcasting to the world what they had that morning for breakfast and taking a peek at comments made by their ‘friends’ for posts which should not concern them normally. Much like Twitter, Facebook possibly owed its growth & success to the fact that it managed to adhere largely to the KISS (Keep It Simple & Stupid ) principle which would have been comforting to most of its users. It had a great opportunity to distinguish itself from johnnies-come-lately like Google+ which quite a few people might find somewhat complicated & confusing to test-drive & muster. Alas, in its desperation, it is trying its best to become another Google+ by churning out poor versions & pale imitations of G+’s major features without realizing that, in the medium & long-term, it can’t win the battle with Google because Google, in addition to being the big honchos of Search, has its fingers in over half -a-dozen apps like YouTube, Picasa, Documents, Reader, Calendar, Talk & Maps, in addition to having control over cloud computing, browsers, operating systems & even mobile hardware companies now. And, end of the day, content and its easy shareability & deliverability rules above all else, doesn’t it?
Jerry Yang and his co-founders were the Internet big honchos in the late 90s, having their fingers in everything from Searches to E-mails, E-groups, News portals & Blogs among others. It took less than a decade for it to be reduced to the status of an also-ran in virtually each of these areas. Given the fact that upward spiral & downward plunge cycles have gotten shorter in the Internet era, one finds it hard to visualize Facebook & Zuckerberg five years from now as anything other than an also-ran, still bent on mindlessly copying from the newer games in town what they perceive as ‘killer-features’, to regain lost glory. Didn’t someone tell them that mere imitation is not only the best form of flattery but also the first big steps towards ceding a position of leadership?
A couple of instances of how patchy Facebook’s hasty makeover is:
1. Facebook now allows you to choose from among lists. Unlike g+ though which allows you to select one or more circles, just an individual even or all circles, extended circles & public, Facebook gives you the choice of choosing a particular list, a predefined category like Friends or Public generally which is far more restrictive in addition to not being intuitive at all.
Facebook appears to be forming Smart-lists of friends by primarily selecting those among your friends who post or comment much more frequently than others. Sadly, this can hardly be the basis for your default choice of ‘good friends’. While one can manage & tweak the list as desired, the default option seems downright hazardous. Remember when Buzz tried to do something similar and it blew up in their face (possibly helped along by Facebook, its media managers & ‘friendly’ blogs & publications).
Facebook now lets you follow folks who opt to be Subscribed to. How is that any different from Pages that one may have elected to follow earlier? Extending the page functionality to individuals & making it an opt-in feature can hardly be called a major innovation or upgrade, isn’t it?
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