07.14.11

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Posted in Google at 3:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Google+ and Facebook need to be avoided for being proprietary software traps with understated dangers

GOOGLE PLUS has been spamming people in order to gain subscribers. Moreover, it has lied to the public in order to create an illusion of scarcity (invites) and in many ways it remains similar to Facebook. Both are proprietary and running on a LAMP stack. Suffice to say, the main advantage we see in having Google+ is that it increases competition and reminds people that just flipping over a boolean flag to indicate one of hundreds of millions is a ‘friend’ only applies to one of several (potentially many) databases.

Techrights does not typically deal with social science and the attention whores that flock to Facebook despite its many abuses.

We have been more interested in Facebbook’s bad business practices, which include AstroTurfing, lock-in, patent aggression, privacy violations, censorship, and much more.

Not so long ago we wrote about Facebook’s insult to Free software. We are seeing it again:

After just a few days of operation, Facebook has already slammed the door for Open-Xchange’s OX.IO export tool. According to Facebook, the app violates its terms of service — but the company says “we are not violating anything.”

So here’s the scoop: Last week, Open-Xchange (a company that provides an Exchange-compatible email and collaboration suite) launched OX.IO. The new service is supposed to help users consolidate contact data, and worked with Facebook, but also works with GMail, GMX.de, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, SugarCRM, and a few others.

Recall what Facebook did to products associated with KDE. The way it just blocked software for competitive reasons provides insight into the danger of relying on third-part platforms, including Google. It wasn’t long ago that Google withdrew APIs it implicitly promised to support.

As we wrote several months ago, the only ‘social network’ Techrights is willing to endorse is Identi.ca (accounts named here).

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11 Comments

  1. pusztaig said,

    July 14, 2011 at 5:31 pm

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    FYI, Google+ is not running on a LAMP stack. It is a Java-beast using Google’s storage technology. For more info: http://www.infoq.com/news/2011/07/Google-Plus

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks for the information.

  2. wallclimber said,

    July 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

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    “Attention whores”? Really? There are none of those on Identi.ca??? :)

    I think you’re a little harsh regarding Google +, whether it’s right for everyone is a different matter. But I think it’s useful for many people.

    There are many things about Google that I wish were different, but for now, I think Google + may give a lot of people a fresh start. Many learned some hard lessons with Facebook, so maybe folks will be more careful with Google +.

    People need an alternative to Facebook. Being social is part of being human, and it would be wonderful to have a fully free option, but there really isn’t one. Was Diaspora free? (I don’t remember), sadly the name sounded like a bad reaction to eating old beans.

    Anyway, I just think you’re being too harsh towards Google +. I’ve only been using it for a couple of days, but so far it’s been rather fun (maybe I can even learn to be sociable). :)

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    You’ve raised some valid points. I’m not arguing that Google+ is something to oppose (the competition is always valuable because it speeds up innovation and incentivises better treatment of customers), but I just don’t see why — from a FOSS POV — people would wish to put all their stock of data on a third party’s server/service. It’s all very much akin to Fog (cloud) computing where the underlying platform is proprietary and distant.

    Adrian Malacoda Reply:

    Diaspora is free, but I’m not sure how production-ready it is.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Indeed. I have not heard about it in a long while. When I did, it was poor quality code.

  3. wallclimber said,

    July 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

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    Hi Roy,

    I understand your concerns, but people who will “put ALL their stock of data on third party’s servers” are beyond help anyway.

    I think you may be mixing several different concerns into one pot.

    Trusting selected files to a third party might result in data loss if the third party servers belly-up. If that happens, people will (hopefully) have copies of anything that was lost.

    If the concern is about possibly losing control over your own data, that’s a very valid point. But that potential is always there once you’ve published something online. Heh, this particular aspect has given the Movie and Music mobsters many sleepless nights, I’m sure. A person will always lose some measure of control when they publish information online.

    Maybe the concern is having people’s data locked-in (Facebook certainly works hard to do that), or account owners can be locked out. I think that’s always a worry, and people should know that it can happen.

    Frankly, anyone that’s been on Facebook for any length of time should already have learned these lessons. I know several that have.

    As for fully free software (a quick thank you to Adrian for confirming that Diaspora is Free), I wish a Free option was available that could compete. But that option isn’t really here yet, at least not in any useful way.

    So keeping an eye on Google, making our preferences known (as best we can), and encouraging those who are contemplating a move away from Facebook, to think more carefully about the content they share in the future.

    It ain’t perfect by any means, but it’s a step forward.

    Also, I don’t feel that saying Google is telling lies to the public about invitations being “scarce”. They certainly aren’t scarce, but they ARE being controlled, they’re actually quite clear about that. I can’t fault them for it, the utter chaos of opening it up to the whole world in one swoop would be a screaming nightmare.

    For now they are being careful and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. My hope is that once Google + settles in, more social sites (new ones) will start up. Maybe there will be some serious competition happening. I’d like for Facebook to become just a bit player, but I’m hoping that Google + has a lot of other competition as time goes by. There should never be only one choice.

    In the end, maybe we’ll get that fully Free social cloud that we want. Maybe we’ll each have our own.

    I think what I enjoy most about the FOSS community is that it just keeps moving forward, no matter what.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Regarding Google invitations, it is supposed to eliminate SEO/spam/social ‘marketing’ accounts, I reckon. But the invite-only system is hardly enough to tackle it, maybe slow it down a bit.

  4. NotZed said,

    July 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm

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    The real problem I had with facebook is you basically have to open your account (entirely? who knows?) up to unidentified 3rd parties to access any service at all. Even seemingly innocuous features like the poke button. Another issue is that it is a closed internet creating false scarcity. i.e. you need to ‘friend’ someone just to see their profile (even if they initiated it), or you need an account to see what is otherwise public information. i.e. be part of the exclusive club (that everyone else is in).

    As bad as it is to have all of ones data with them, at least Google isn’t giving the data out to anyone else (hell, it’s far too valuable for that). And they seem to have a reasonable level of ethics – which definitely cannot be said for facebook or the facebook widget authors. And you know, a delete-account button. The invite thing is definitely a shameless marketing tool, but I can imagine that ramping up the scalability testing is a valid concern too.

    I’m excluded from g+ anyway since it wont work with my browser version(s) (so I found out from a friend at least). And forcing me to install new versions of software just seems a bit rich to try out something I doubt i’ll use – if people are too lazy to email, phone, or catch up for a beer or coffee I can’t see myself really giving a shit about their baby or pet photos either (why pretend). Or the inane and utterly vacuous conversations that seem a particularly face-book scourge, although maybe that was just my so-called ‘friends’ (even twatter doesn’t suffer this as much although it still makes irc look like a work of literature in comparison). It felt embarrassing to try to bring up anything of weight beyond the current score in a footy match – not that you could in the 200 odd chars it lets you enter, and I could never tell which posts or updates were being silently hidden from other ‘friends’ (e.g. link posts).

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The invite thing is definitely a shameless marketing tool, but I can imagine that ramping up the scalability testing is a valid concern too.

    If they can absorb 10 million new users in a couple of days, then I cannot quite see exclusivity.

  5. twitter said,

    July 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm

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    I would not equate Google and Facebook because Facebook has proved their lack of ethics and Google has proved the reverse. The concentration of information is dangerous but it can be argued that Google already has the same from email, blogging and other services. The Facebook/Microsoft/China alliance is far more dangerous and has already done real harm by selling users out.

    There are many steps that users should take if they want to protect their privacy and free speech rights. The goal is to eliminate non free software entirely, but some steps are less comfortable than others. Political activists and others worried about retaliation should more more quickly than others but everyone should value their software freedom. In order of usefulness and ease they are;

    1. Eliminate Windows and other non free OS from private use. Microsoft has been caught scraping Google search terms from ordinary users. All non free software has this ability, so what Facebook and Google know about Windows users is only a subset of what Microsoft does. TOR, disk encryption and all other privacy and anonymity software on top of Windows is futile. Free software like GNU/Linux and BSD have none of these problems. Email and other important records should only be kept on free software.

    2. Eliminate non free software from your home network. Every non free device on your network can spy on you. Obvious examples are gaming systems. Mostly free systems with a few non free programs like Flash or Skype installed on them should also be treated like spies. These can be powered down most of the time but people are better off with free software replacements like MythTV.

    3. Eliminate non free software from your cell phone and treat it like a spy. This is particularly difficult in the US and cell phones are considered a safety device.

    4. Avoid Facebook and other “cloud” services. This step is one of the easiest to accomplish because there are so many other ways to do the same thing. I have hosted my own “cloud” architecture for six or seven years with OpenSSH and other free software. As networks get better, projects like Freedom Box will become the obvious choice.

    Facebook is a natural for Microsoft but whoring will wreck the place and the same can not be said of Google/Google+. Owners of non free software work to divide people to keep them helpless and dependent. These divisions mostly manifest themselves in pain points such as obnoxious file formats. Software owners ultimately rely on “network effects” which they create by convincing influential people to adopt non free formats or media that forces others to surrender their money and freedom. Facebook is the Internet the way Microsoft would have it; limited, transparent to Microsoft, easy to censor and control. The company has already tried to push OOXML and other Microsoft cruft into Facebook, and has punished Skype users who are not also Windows users. Users resent this and it is one of many reasons they are jumping away from Facebook. Google has no incentive to push software other than to preclude non free sabotage of their web services of the type used to kill Netscape. Google will always be tempted to sell users out so users should proceed with caution.

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