Internet Technology

Google Gets Into the Hotel Business

I had an idea: Now that Google is expanding into non-Internet related businesses like self-driving cars and mining asteroids, something they might want to consider are hotels.

Why? Because they already don’t care about your privacy, and this could be a big advantage for a hotelier. Hear me out.

Every room is wired with microphones and cameras – everything you do and say is recorded. This way, if you’re hungry and you say so, you get a call from room service asking what you’d like to order. Granted, maybe you want to go out to eat, but Google needs your money so you’ll just have to get through them first.

When you do brush off room service because you want to go out, you get another call from the concierge. They heard what you said, and so they called you a cab from the company the hotel has partnered with.

If you come back later that night with someone you met, maybe you’ll have sex. That’s when the bellman will show up at your door with a selection of condoms from the gift shop you may be interested in purchasing.

Don’t worry about who is going to see and hear all of this information they’re recording, though. It’s all anonymous. So if that person you took back to your room isn’t your wife or husband, no one will ever know.

Unless your wife or husband is a law enforcement official. Then it will magically be pretty unanonymous.

After all, if you’re doing something in a hotel room you don’t want other people to know about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it, right? Hey, if you don’t like it, you can always go to another hotel.

Unfortunately, in this scenario, Google Hotels controls 66.8% of the market, and it’s nearest competitor Bing is doing the exact same nefarious shit.

If all that sounds crazy, why are Google’s online policies not considered just as crazy?

All of this is just about exactly what they did when they decided all information would be shared across all of the platforms they own. On the surface, it never sounded too terrible: If you’re searching for an Adam Sandler movie, maybe later on YouTube will show you some more Adam Sandler movies since you showed an interest in it. So what?

The problem is if you don’t want that kind of help from Google, it’s damn hard to get out of it. The privacy policy may be shared, but there are a number of different avenues you have to take to opt out of them.

And in some cases you can’t. I own an Android phone – the OS created by Google. In order for it to function, I have to use a Google login. Once I do, Google records my name, address, phone number, and the serial number for my device – and adds it to my Google account record. I cannot tell Google to leave that information out, I cannot delete it once it has been added. I am locked into their idea of “convenience,” which does more for them to learn about me than it does to make their products function better.

Also, like in the metaphorical hotel, Google says their data collection is anonymous, that no one could determine who you are based on what they get. However, Google can easily give law enforcement officials your search records at the drop of a court order.

Now, I actually have no problem with law enforcement officials getting this kind of information with a valid court order. What I cannot understand is how something supposedly “anonymous” can tell the police anything about an individual user. If this data really didn’t point directly at me, police wouldn’t have any use for it. That the police keep subpoenaing this information shows Google can tell whose records are whose, and is telling its users a bald-faced lie.

The one way I’ve found around giving Google too much of what I think is too much, I use separate logins for all of their properties. I have one Google login for work, another for socializing on Google Plus, another for YouTube, and yet another for my phone. The idea is they cannot share between accounts because they don’t know each of these profiles is me. I can’t be sure this works, though. For all I know, they collate all this data into one profile for me, with the notation that I’m a smart ass. If they did, I certainly wouldn’t expect they’d tell me.

It also means, oddly, that I cannot use my G+ account on my phone for fear of Google. If they’re tapping my phone conversations, (which they are capable of doing,) it doesn’t matter to me because all they have to connect these to are the fake name I gave them when I created the phone’s Google account. If they tied it into my original Google login, the one I created back when they were still dedicated to not being evil, they would know EVERYTHING about me. And I’d have no way of stopping them.

I’ll leave you with this story, which is apocryphal but I hope true, because it’s brilliant: When Google Maps debuted Street View, a number of people complained because their homes, their cars parked outside, and the license plate numbers on those cars were all visible. These people said their privacy had been invaded. In response, Google’s resident cold, vicious demon – heretofore known as Eric Schmidt – again said that there is no more privacy; You know, that old chestnut.

In response to this, some enterprising bloggers got on Google Maps, and hunted down the view of Eric Schmidt’s house. Then they blogged about it, including the Street View picture, to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Shortly thereafter, Google started to blur the license plate numbers on vehicles it captured.

Whether this is true or not, it does illustrate that privacy isn’t just a concern for criminals or philanderers or people who do things they “maybe shouldn’t be doing in the first place.”

You should donate to Wikipedia

If you’ve been on Wikipedia lately, you’ve no doubt seen the banner with the picture of co-founder Jimmy Wales asking for your help.

A lot of the time, we all skip past this. After the obnoxious explosion of banner ads in the early 2000s, most Internet surfers developed that extra muscle in their brain that helps them not see banners.

But today I clicked through, and I donated to the cause. That graphic on the right rail of my page shows I did. You should too.

Support Wikipedia

Why? Because Wikipedia is an important source of (usually) unbiased information, a quick resource almost everyone has used at some time, that charges nothing and doesn’t ask you to buy, click or link back to. The idea that some day advertisers would be able to smear their logo feces all over the pages of Wikipedia obviously would make advertisers themselves drool.

The rest of us would likely suffer. Imagine a company with a massive ad buy on Wikipedia – which you know would be expensive, given the amount of traffic Wikipedia gets. Then a decidedly bad story breaks out in the news about said company, and the volunteer editors update this company’s page with that information, just as they would now.

Wouldn’t you imagine that company would put pressure on Wikipedia to remove those references? Perhaps they’d lobby to have their page locked down altogether? Would Wikipedia have the stones to tell this company to shove off? Actually, forget that – would they even have the financial ability for that? If they become dependent on advertiser money to keep doing what they do, everything would balance on ad revenue to keep from going under.

Donating makes sure they continue to have the funds to operate without having to answer to corporate interest. PBS and Public Radio like to lay claim to that, but they still have to mention the companies that give them “grants,” which, frankly, is its own form of advertising.

So I’m asking, if you’re reading this, for you to go to Wikipedia, click on the link to give a donation, and then actually do it. If you have Paypal, it will blow your mind how easy it is to do.

And before anyone starts blasting me about all of the other things I could ask you to donate to, I’ve given to the Haitian Relief Fund this year too. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the Internet. So bugger off.

Why we love Google, Apple and Facebook

I didn’t get enough sleep last night – so this morning I woke up so stupid-dumb tired I could barely function. When you’re in a mood like that, you want things to be simple, and just work, so you don’t have to think.

Hence the title of this post. The reason we are so enamored of these three mega-companies of the 3.0 age is that they offer a kind of Orwellian-socialist simplicity: The stuff always works, is always simple, and is always there.

Yes, there are a lot of other designs or tools that could work better. It’s the utilitarian ease behind Google Search, Facebook, or the Apple interface on anything that keeps us coming back.

Consider Facebook – why do we all keep coming back to a site with questionable privacy policies and no content of their own? Because it’s easy. If all of our friends are there, and nothing is ever too terribly broken (like Twitter is with that damn Failwhale,) we’ll keep coming back to it. Facebook doesn’t actually do anything except create a stage where our friends can entertain us, and we can entertain our friends. (Or game companies can entertain us with town and mob simulators, but that’s another story.)

Google was just another search engine, but with more believable results. Otherwise, the concept of search results is universally loved. “I ask it a question, I get an answer, I go on about my business.” It’s the reason Yahoo! and AOL before it were just as beloved: A simple service that let people use it and move on.

So many developers today think they need to reinvent the wheel to get the public’s attention, and have the next can’t-live-without-it product offering. It would be great if someone could figure out a need we have but aren’t aware isn’t being fulfilled: Search engines did that too, as did Wikipedia, e-mail, SMS/instant messaging… things we didn’t know we needed, but now that we have them can’t live without.

Apple did the same thing with personal computers instead of information retrieval or communications. I’ve used PCs all of my life, so you’d better believe I understand the appeal of Apple: Their stuff always works, all of the time. It’s easy to use and always looks pretty. PCs don’t work that way. PCs break, they’re usually poorly designed, there’s no consistency from one machine to the other, all of the really great viruses are written for PCs….

And don’t get me started on mobile! That iPhone is so easy to use, you have to wonder why all mobile interfaces aren’t required by law to mimic it.

Apple’s appeal is readily apparent to those of us who use PCs and wish they would just Goddamn work. If they managed to bring their price down to something approaching reasonable, I’d probably own one – but that is neither here nor there.

This is for the website and app developers: If you really want to innovate, innovate a simple solution that lets us get what we need and move on. All of the big, high concepts aren’t what we need. We need simple. We need something we can still use even when we’re horribly sleep deprived. We need something that makes our lives easier.

That’s how the big boys roll, because that’s all we really want.

Why I don’t love the Cloud

There’s a lot of talk about Cloud Computing lately. There’s been a lot for the past couple of years, but with Apple’s announcement of the iCloud, everyone’s doing the talking.

iCloud Media Cloud

This is also something Google has gotten into, with their Google Music and to an extent Google Docs. So this isn’t just a slam against Apple, they’ve just gotten all of the press lately.

Like most good ideas, iCloud is a simple one: Since there are so many devices you may have – an iPod, an iPhone, an iPad, and/or an Apple computer, iCloud would be the place where all of your files and contacts live, so all of your devices can be synced up easily. Rather than living on your base computer’s hard drive, and updating everything one by one, the Cloud will simply do it for you. What’s more, your files would be accessed wirelessly and not have to live on an old fashioned, poopy hard drive.

So where do I begin with my complaints on this? All of them stem from two things that drive me crazy with modern technology: The over-large corporation that tells its users this is a good idea, and the mass of users who go along with the hype.

First off, storing all of my files on an Apple server means I no longer have my own files. There is a flimsy contract between the provider and myself that my files will be secure and always waiting for me. What happens when they aren’t though? If I am a salesman, and I lose all my contacts through a snafu with their cloud, how will I be compensated for all the lost sales that would result?

Then there’s the purely selfish reason: I have a LOT of illegally burned content. Not necessarily stolen, but I do burn my own copies of CDs and DVDs – if you’ve been online for at least a few years, you do too. What’s to say the owner of the cloud service doesn’t bow down to the RIAA or Paramount or Universal, and let them look over my collection to see if there’s anything lawsuit-worthy?

Finally, assuming there aren’t any technical or draconian legal issues, there’s still the problem of bandwidth. Loading all of your music onto the iCloud and syncing it with your iPad on the go is great – until everyone else does it too. I actually like the idea of cloud computing to store some files. But what happens when everyone’s device relies on a mobile data plan to get its music?

What happens is everything will get slower.

It is possible to get enough servers and towers to make this work. That will be incredibly expensive, of course, and that cost will be passed onto the consumer – namely, you. And me, in fact, whether I use it or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if in a year or two Android or iPhone data plans drive the monthly cost up to $200 per month.

The current cost is already too high for something as simple as a phone in my opinion. All the market needs to do is tell companies they’re willing to spend twice as much on their service just to avoid manually syncing devices. Then they can charge almost as much as they want to.

All just so Apple can stop putting hard drives in iPods, and sell you more crap exclusively on iTunes? It sounds like we’re all lining up for a major screwing.

StatCounter – A fabulously useful site

If you’ve ever wondered what the most popular operating system worldwide is, or mobile browser, or screen resolution, have I got a site for you: StatCounter.

StatCounter is about the most useful free web analytics site I’ve ever seen. You can choose from a host of different options to learn about:

Browsers
Browser Versions
Mobile Browsers
Operating Systems
Mobile Operating Systems
Search Engines
Mobile Search Engines
Mobile vs. Desktop
Social Media

If there are results you don’t care to look at, like Digg on your mobile browser popularity report, you can deselect it and just look at the things you want to know more about.

Because you don’t really care how many people are still web browsing with a Sony PSP, do you? Of course you don’t.

You can also create a jpeg of the report you looked at, so you can easily share it around, or use the embed code for your blog.

And did I mention it’s free?

Seriously, bookmark this site right now. It will teach you a lot about how your potential customers might be finding you.

What I love about.me

If you’re digitally hip, you’ve likely heard of this site before – about.me.

But if you’re normal, you haven’t. Normal people don’t care about things like this. They just care about e-mail and Facebook at best. Twitter is one of those dumb things you hate because you can’t get into it. QR codes seem designed to make you feel inadequate because you can’t even install Angry Birds onto your phone without throwing it across the room, much less a QR scanner.

The truth is, though, that’s why about.me is such a perfect site for the technically challenged: It is an online business card that introduces you to anyone who lands on it. It’s less of a “social networking” site than it is a social networking Hamburger Helper – it accentuates what you’re doing, but doesn’t add anything to the content.

Okay, bad metaphor. Moving on…

I'm an SEO, a blogger and a zombie killer.

About.me works because it’s easy to get, easy to use, easy to understand. AOL recently bought them, I think because they see the potential behind the online business card and want to grab it up before it becomes expensive.

If you’re a tech geek, it’s great because you can show the various profiles you have on other sites like WordPress, Twitter, Flickr, Linkedin, whatever.

For the luddites in the audience, (see how the word “luddite” is underlined and/or colored differently depending on your browser preferences? That’s because it’s a link – if you’re a luddite, you can click on it to find out what you are!) about.me is easy to use and easy to understand. You simply plug in the URLs of the sites you’re on and like into the profile when you sign up. When you need to add a page link to yourself somewhere, if you don’t have a blog or site of your own, you can leave your about.me page in it’s place.

This is my own about.me page. This took about 10 minutes to sign up, and as you can see it has links to a LOT of different profiles on the web. While it gives me a lot of options for modifying the look, the majority of the screen is whatever picture I want to upload to it. I like that too – it means I get to dominate the look of my page. Where Facebook dictates the entire look of the page, and WordPress practically requires a Master’s degree in tedious coding to make it pretty, all about.me needs is a picture.

Finally, it’s a lot less obnoxious sharing an about.me page than it is a lead gen form or a blog on social media profiles. Sure, you don’t get all the traffic from your profile link to your blog – that’s a strike against it. But if you’re more into sharing your real life with people, you look less like a desperate marketer and more like an actual, real life person.

Check it out – it’s very cool stuff.

Apple iPad’s strange photo for Facetime

When the iPad 2 was announced this month, Apple put together a micro site of features and pictures of all the neat doo-dads it comes with. On one of those pages, I found this awesome picture:

ipad 2

The picture was on the page touting Facetime, Apple’s re-branding strategy where they rename webcam chat and call it innovation.

But it also showcases how the iPad now comes in black AND white.

So is it just me, or do the choices of clip art models for each color tablet seem a little… I don’t know what – either “weird” or “obvious” comes to mind. Why would they put the black model on the screen of the black iPad, and the white model on the white one? I’m all for diversity – and if the pictures had been switched, I don’t know that I would have noticed anything.

There isn’t anything wrong with the choices of models in the photo, except it does elicit the idea that Facetime changes the color of your iPad depending on the race of the person you’re talking to.

Oh okay, no it doesn’t. I know, I’m being silly stupid. I frankly don’t care about their choices in photos – and it could just be a coincidence, sure. But isn’t this something someone would have caught eventually? Especially at Apple?