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Google Going Evil?

As we warned in the days that followed the July London bombings, computer users should apply caution to any email received in their inbox which claims to represent a charity that has been established to help the victims of the recent Hurricane Katrina that affected the Gulf Coast region of the United States. Obviously named domains such as,, and are believed to be attempts by fraudsters to obtain financial details, or theft of donations. It is recommended that people who wish to donate to valid relief organisations refer to the website (US Federal Emergency Management Agency) for links to the appropriate sites. There has also been news that PayPal has locked accounts of people who have been legitimately collecting for hurricane relief.

To many people, Google's corporate mantra of 'Don't Be Evil' is starting to wear a bit thin. The beta release of is the latest in a series of product releases and company acquisitions that are causing people to start asking questions about Google itself. Although there is little in Google's history which would suggest that the company is about to head off on the track of being evil, the fact that it has become a publicly traded company means that it is forced to endure more public disclosure than a private company is held to, and the control of the company slips to the shareholders.

It is some of these shareholders, and market analysts who are complaining the loudest, being very concerned at the inflated (in their minds) Price to Earnings ratio of Google. Often used as a metric for how a stock is valued, the P/E ratio for Google's stock is stratospheric, when compared to companies that have been listed for a longer period. This could indicate artificial inflation of the stock price, and has some worried that a second "Internet Bubble" has begun.

At the same time, the practices of Google are being called into question, especially in respect to "click fraud", where a company pays someone to repeatedly click through on a competitor's Google ads, without making any purchases. This has the effect of driving up the costs of the victim, without them seeing any tangible benefit.

Because Google has become to be seen as the arbiter of what does and doesn't exist on the Internet, they have a unique social responsibility, which they have taken up with pleasure, to ensure that the results their search engine provides are as accurate and unbiased as possible.

People who have watched the progression of Google, from startup through to publicly traded behemoth, have noticed that the big shift in attitude towards Google took place around the time that they announced they were going to go public. For a company that keeps its research closely guarded, the evolution to publicly traded entity means more scrutiny and oversight, which is likely to force Google to give up at least some of its 'black box' approach to research, where money goes in at one end, and a product arrives at the other, but what happens in between is hidden from view. An extremely critical view of the products from the company shows that there are few revenue streams, but they are huge.

The primary income stream for Google comes from advertising, both amongst the results on their search engine, and also through the AdSense program, which delivers contextual text ads in a banner format to other sites. Google search hardware is also available, which provides companies with a means to have their own localised search engine for the electronic documents within their network. The purchase of other companies has yet to see a significant revenue stream be added (at least nothing to rival the advertising revenues). Google have also recently announced their move into print advertising, purchasing large amounts of print advertising, possibly to allow smaller companies access to print advertising opportunities they otherwise would not be able to afford.

For many users, so long as Google is not explicitly evil in their interactions with the company, then they are fine with the business practices that they use. If they perceive no evil, and the services being received are satisfactory, then the users are quite happy to continue with their use of the services that Google offers.

The ongoing race to become the primary search engine used by Internet surfers has resulted in a lawsuit between Google and Microsoft (MSN Search). Apparently, Google's hiring of an executive away from Microsoft contravened the contract that the employee had signed with Microsoft. While the details of the case are still being argued out, many have pointed to historical cases where Microsoft have done exactly the same thing, in order to limit competition. One such case was the hiring away from Borland of a number of key developers, which resulted in the effective neutralisation of Borland's software offerings which were competing with Microsoft.

Documents supplied in the current Microsoft / Google lawsuit suggest that Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, was subject to a violent outburst over the hiring away of the Microsoft executive. This outburst included several profanities and damage to office furniture. Observers have expressed their concern that this outburst is indicative of an underlying personality trait. Steve Ballmer is not alone in outbursts among high technology company executives. Steve Jobs, of Apple, Pixar, and NeXT, is famous for his outbursts when confronted over various matters.

A study was recently released which suggested that corporations (and by extension, the CxO level) exhibited Sociopathic tendencies in their actions, and this recent outburst by Steve Ballmer continues this concept. While the anthromorphisation of corporations doesn't always work, it does provide an interesting metric in this case.

As search engines begin to offer more content to mobile phone users, viruses targeted at that platform will become a larger risk. According to Finnish security firm, F-Secure, the first major outbreak of a mobile-phone based virus has affected an unnamed European firm. The worm, a variant of Commwarrior, can spread via a number of mechanisms (depending upon the variant), spreading through Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), and through Bluetooth. The first variant of Commwarrior (A) only attempts to spread during specific hours of the day, from 8 am through to midnight, and then attempts to erase evidence of activity between 7 am and 8 am. The second variant (B), which infected the company, attempts to spread for 23 hours a day, giving a much greater chance of infection. Apparently an employee received the virus on their phone, and decided to activate the application, which then set the virus into active mode, allowing it to spread to the other phones in the local area (the office).

Viruses and other malware attacking communication devices can start to cause problems when communicating with outsourced business operations. Outsourcing has long been a sore point amongst technical workers in a number of Western countries, as they watch their jobs being shipped internationally, primarily to India, where the cost of living and employment is cheaper. With the massive influx of capital, inflation is starting to have an effect in the high-tech regions of India, and there is speculation as to the next location for major outsourcing. For major Western corporations to outsource significant levels of work, the receiving country will need to have a large English speaking population, cheap labour and a relatively advanced technical sector (or one that can be rapidly scaled). Countries such as China, Vietnam and Russia currently do not have a sufficiently large English speaking population, and countries in Africa may not be stable enough politically in order to be outsourced to.

An interesting development has seen a United Kingdom based company move their outsourced operations to the Philippines. As a country that has been under the control of Spain, and the United States of America, it has a fairly large population of English speakers, cheap labour, and a relatively advanced technical sector. An added benefit is that it is one of the first countries to enter the new day (along with Australia, New Zealand and Japan), and can rapidly respond to time-based issues. When a number of anti-virus companies had problems with their definition file updates earlier this year, it was a Philippines-based office which was the first to respond, and provide appropriate technical fixes.

One person who is unlikely to be outsourced is notorious Scandinavian hacker, DVD Jon (Jon Lech Johanson), who has published details on removing the protection which is provided to NSC formatted Windows Media streaming files. His stated motive for performing such an action is to allow other media players to view content that has been streamed for Windows Media Player. Previously known for his publication of methods to defeat FairPlay (the protection on iTunes Music Store files), and CSS (the protection which prevents DVDs from being copied), DVD Jon is believed to be the spokesperson for a group of hackers who are working on defeating Digital Rights Management techniques.

Finally, several thousand Zen MP3 players from Creative were shipped to the Japanese market with a nasty surprise for the new owners. The software that accompanied the players was infected with the W32.Wullik.B@mm. Updating to the latest Anti-virus definition files should help remove any infection, and Creative have issued a press release (in Japanese) which covers the issue.

5 September 2005

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