无心法师第一季This is the next phase in political fat acceptance. The days of justifying our fatness by lying and saying we have a mysterious genetic or metabolic disorder are over. We now freely admit to and embrace what the fat haters would call gluttony. We fatlings are no longer apologists for our size nor our greedy gluttony. We are fat because we eat huge amounts of food and we like it. If you don't like it get used to it because fat people are now the overwhelming majority.
There seems to be a leap from “some” clerics supporting the rebels to the Russian Orthodox Church supporting the rebels… and there is no basis for such a leap. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, under the Moscow Patriarchate, is the only major religious group in the Ukraine that tolerates a diversity of opinion on this issue. There are very outspoken clergy who support the current government, and who are very critical of Putin. Naturally, there are clergy in Eastern Ukraine who share the sentiments of the people living there. The Russian Church has no interest in seeing this civil war continue, and has been in fact supporting a peaceful settlement. The Patriarch did not attend the ceremony in which Crimea was formally received into the Russian Federation, and the Church still considers Crimea to be under the authority of the Autonomous Church of the Ukraine.
The Russian Church has spoken out against the use of indiscriminate rocket fire, shelling, and bombing of of civilian population centers. What is hypocritical is how many of those who criticized what Israel did in Gaza who have not said a word about what the Ukrainian government has been doing in Eastern Ukraine.
If we compare Russia’s involvement with Eastern Ukraine to the United States involvement in Kosovo, the hypocrisy is even more striking. At most, Russia is supplying weapons, and encouraging Russian nationals to support the rebels. The United States became the air force for the Kosovo Liberation Army — which had known connections with Al Qaeda. We bombed the entire infrastructure of Serbia — killing many civilians in the process. We promised the Serbs that we would respect the territorial integrity of Serbia, and that Kosovo would remain part of Serbia. We also promised that the border of Kosovo would be managed by the Yugoslavian Army, and that they would be allowed to protect Serbian areas… and then once we got in, we threw all of that out of the window, and then recognized Kosovo as independent.
And the US has no historical connection with Kosovo, and thus no claim to a right to interfere. Russia and Ukraine have been part of the same country for most of the past several centuries, and large portions of its population consider themselves Russian.
And why is it that the New York Times is not doing a story about “some” Ukrainian Catholic clergy supporting neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine?
As most of you know, I’m taking a university class in modern Russian history this fall. It is an extraordinary thing, this class, because it illuminates so much of what is going on in Russia today, and that has been going on over the course of my lifetime. To me, it is especially fascinating to see in detail how the Bolsheviks were essentially a much worse version of the system they overthrew. What I mean is that there are characteristics of Russian culture and society that are constant, across regimes and systems. They were there under the Tsars, they were there under the Bolsheviks, and they are there under Putin. It makes me much less hopeful for a resolution to the Ukraine situation, and the broader issue of relations between Russia and the West.
Masha Gessen is an emigre journalist whose byline sets off alarms with me. She absolutely hates Putin, to the point where I strongly question anything she writes about him. She is also an LGBT activist who endorses lying to serve the cause. As she said in a 2012 speech at an LGBT conference, “Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we’re going to do with marriage when we get there.”
So that’s Masha Gessen. But I’m glad I read her recent piece on the New York Review of Books blog, in which she puzzles out why so many Russians are dying. There are actual statistics, and it’s a pretty straightforward attempt to understand why things are so bad for Russians. Excerpts:
In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.
She talks about how alcoholism, for example, is taking many Russian lives, but the Czechs and the Hungarians drink more than Russians, and are not suffering rates like the Russians are. The Russians have the worst cardiovascular disease rate in the world, even though other peoples eat fattier diets than they do. She goes on through other explanations for Russia’s population drop and unusually high mortality rate, before concluding that the problem is, at its core, psychological. More:
In addition, three important things made life not only less harsh, relative to earlier years, but even worth living. One was the general perception of social and economic stability. Jobs were unquestionably secure and, starting in the 1960s, followed by a retirement guaranteed by the state. A second was the general sense of progress, both of the sort Soviet propaganda promised (the country was going to build the first communist society, in which money would be abolished and everyone would share in the plenty); and the personal material improvement this generation experienced itself moving toward. A third source of comfort of Soviet life was its apparent equality. A good number of people with connections enjoyed extraordinary perquisites compared to the vast majority of the population, but the wealth-and-privilege gap was concealed by the tall fences around the nomenklatura summer houses, the textbook and newspaper depictions of Soviet egalitarianism, and the glacial pace of mobility into one of the favored groups at the top.
In other words, things were terrible under the Soviet regime, but people had the illusion that things were at least stable, and getting better. Plus, they couldn’t see how good the privileged class had it, meaning that they were ignorant of their own situation. More:
Another major clue to the psychological nature of the Russian disease is the fact that the two brief breaks in the downward spiral coincided not with periods of greater prosperity but with periods, for lack of a more data-driven description, of greater hope. The Khrushchev era, with its post-Stalin political liberalization and intensive housing construction, inspired Russians to go on living. The Gorbachev period of glasnost and revival inspired them to have babies as well. The hope might have persisted after the Soviet Union collapsed—for a brief moment it seemed that this was when the truly glorious future would materialize—but the upheaval of the 1990s dashed it so quickly and so decisively that death and birth statistics appear to reflect nothing but despair during that decade.
If this is true—if Russians are dying for lack of hope, as they seem to be—then the question that is still looking for its researcher is, Why haven’t Russians experienced hope in the last quarter century? Or, more precisely in light of the grim continuity of Russian death, What happened to Russians over the course of the Soviet century that has rendered them incapable of hope? In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt argues that totalitarian rule is truly possible only in countries that are large enough to be able to afford depopulation. The Soviet Union proved itself to be just such a country on at least three occasions in the twentieth century—teaching its citizens in the process that their lives are worthless. Is it possible that this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation enough times that most Russians are now born with it and this is why they are born with a Bangladesh-level life expectancy? Is it also possible that other post-Soviet states, by breaking off from Moscow, have reclaimed some of their ability to hope, and this is why even Russia’s closest cultural and geographic cousins, such as Belarus and Ukraine, aren’t dying off as fast? If so, Russia is dying of a broken heart—also known as cardiovascular disease.
Read the whole thing. I’m curious to know what you readers who know something about Russia and Russians think of her thesis. Please do not make your remarks an ad hominem attack on Masha Gessen. Argue the data, and tell of your own experiences. To what extent does hope and its lack explain Russia’s death spiral? And: how can this be turned around for Russia? Can it be?
UPDATE: What I’m getting at is wondering whether the kind of “failure to thrive” dynamic that has been observed when Westerners make contact with some primitive peoples who seem to lose their will to live after contact is at work here. Obviously the Russians were very far from primitive. That’s not the point. The point is that the shock of all of one’s certainties, psychological and otherwise, falling apart in more or less an instant was something from which many Russians have not recovered.
UPDATE.2: Many of you have recommended this Forbes article by Mark Adomanis, who is a demographer of Russia, in which he points out errors in Gessen’s essay. Gessen responded here, and ended by calling Adomanis “Putin’s useful idiot.” In his response, Adomanis gallantly avoided sinking into ad hominem abuse. Excerpt:
As I explicitly said in my initial article, and in direct contrast to Gessen’s argument, a country’s demographic trajectory has nothing whatsoever to do with its liberal credentials or its government’s “ability to inspire hope.” Some of the most demographically unstable countries on the planet, places like Germany and Japan, are social democracies with robust welfare states, democratic elections, and clean and transparent governments. And some of the most demographically ascendant countries are horrible dictatorships like Saudi Arabia or chaotic failed states like Iraq. There are many ways in which one can gauge the goodness or badness of a government or a country, but looking solely its long-term population projections might very well be the worst.
Russia’s recent health improvements are real and significant (their duration, on the other hand, is a matter of genuine scholarly debate). That is not an opinion of the tinfoil hat brigade, but of numerous professional demographers. Desperately pretending otherwise, as Gessen attempts to do, is an exercise in exactly the sort of politicized propaganda that she decries.
It’s certainly true that demographic collapse is happening in many countries. What I found interesting about her piece is not the failure to replace the dying, which is happening all over, but her observation that the rate of death in Russia is unusually high, and hard to explain.
GOOGLE, INC., ISN'T just the world's biggest purveyor of information; it is also the world's biggest censor.
The company maintains at least nine different blacklists that impact our lives, generally without input or authority from any outside advisory group, industry association or government agency. Google is not the only company suppressing content on the internet. Reddit has frequently been accused of banning postings on specific topics, and a recent report suggests that Facebook has been deleting conservative news stories from its newsfeed, a practice that might have a significant effect on public opinion – even on voting. Google, though, is currently the biggest bully on the block.
When Google's employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn. Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed. Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970. The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.
If Google were just another mom-and-pop shop with a sign saying "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone," that would be one thing. But as the golden gateway to all knowledge, Google has rapidly become an essential in people's lives – nearly as essential as air or water. We don't let public utilities make arbitrary and secretive decisions about denying people services; we shouldn't let Google do so either.
Big social media companies like Facebook and Google have too much power to manipulate elections.
Robert SchlesingerMay 27, 2016
Let's start with the most trivial blacklist and work our way up. I'll save the biggest and baddest – one the public knows virtually nothing about but that gives Google an almost obscene amount of power over our economic well-being – until last.
1. The autocomplete blacklist. This is a list of words and phrases that are excluded from the autocomplete feature in Google's search bar. The search bar instantly suggests multiple search options when you type words such as "democracy" or "watermelon," but it freezes when you type profanities, and, at times, it has frozen when people typed words like "torrent," "bisexual" and "penis." At this writing, it's freezing when I type "clitoris." The autocomplete blacklist can also be used to protect or discredit political candidates. As recently reported, at the moment autocomplete shows you "Ted" (for former GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz) when you type "lying," but it will not show you "Hillary" when you type "crooked" – not even, on my computer, anyway, when you type "crooked hill." (The nicknames for Clinton and Cruz coined by Donald Trump, of course.) If you add the "a," so you've got "crooked hilla," you get the very odd suggestion "crooked Hillary Bernie." When you type "crooked" on Bing, "crooked Hillary" pops up instantly. Google's list of forbidden terms varies by region and individual, so "clitoris" might work for you. (Can you resist checking?)
2. The Google Maps blacklist.This list is a little more creepy, and if you are concerned about your privacy, it might be a good list to be on. The cameras of Google Earth and Google Maps have photographed your home for all to see. If you don't like that, "just move," Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt said. Google also maintains a list of properties it either blacks out or blurs out in its images. Some are probably military installations, some the residences of wealthy people, and some – well, who knows? Martian pre-invasion enclaves? Google doesn't say.
3. The YouTube blacklist.YouTube, which is owned by Google, allows users to flag inappropriate videos, at which point Google censors weigh in and sometimes remove them, but not, according to a recent report by Gizmodo, with any great consistency – except perhaps when it comes to politics. Consistent with the company's strong and open support for liberal political candidates, Google employees seem far more apt to ban politically conservative videos than liberal ones. In December 2015, singer Joyce Bartholomew sued YouTube for removing her openly pro-life music video, but I can find no instances of pro-choice music being removed. YouTube also sometimes acquiesces to the censorship demands of foreign governments. Most recently, in return for overturning a three-year ban on YouTube in Pakistan, it agreed to allow Pakistan's government to determine which videos it can and cannot post.
4. The Google account blacklist.A couple of years ago, Google consolidated a number of its products – Gmail, Google Docs, Google+, YouTube, Google Wallet and others – so you can access all of them through your one Google account. If you somehow violate Google's vague and intimidating terms of service agreement, you will join the ever-growing list of people who are shut out of their accounts, which means you'll lose access to all of these interconnected products. Because virtually no one has ever read this lengthy, legalistic agreement, however, people are shocked when they're shut out, in part because Google reserves the right to "stop providing Services to you … at any time." And because Google, one of the largest and richest companies in the world, has no customer service department, getting reinstated can be difficult. (Given, however, that all of these services gather personal information about you to sell to advertisers, losing one's Google account has been judged by some to be a blessing in disguise.)
The social media giant isn't a news site, but it still shouldn't be messing with its trending topics.
Cary GibsonMay 16, 2016
5. The Google News blacklist. If a librarian were caught trashing all the liberal newspapers before people could read them, he or she might get in a heap o' trouble. What happens when most of the librarians in the world have been replaced by a single company? Google is now the largest news aggregator in the world, tracking tens of thousands of news sources in more than thirty languages and recently adding thousands of small, local news sources to its inventory. It also selectively bans news sources as it pleases. In 2006, Google was accused of excluding conservative news sources that generated stories critical of Islam, and the company has also been accused of banning individual columnists and competing companies from its news feed.In December 2014, facing a new law in Spain that would have charged Google for scraping content from Spanish news sources (which, after all, have to pay to prepare their news), Google suddenly withdrew its news service from Spain, which led to an immediate drop in traffic to Spanish new stories. That drop in traffic is the problem: When a large aggregator bans you from its service, fewer people find your news stories, which means opinions will shift away from those you support. Selective blacklisting of news sources is a powerful way of promoting a political, religious or moral agenda, with no one the wiser.
6. The Google AdWords blacklist. Now things get creepier. More than 70 percent of Google's $80 billion in annual revenue comes from its AdWords advertising service, which it implemented in 2000 by infringing on a similar system already patented by Overture Services. The way it works is simple: Businesses worldwide bid on the right to use certain keywords in short text ads that link to their websites (those text ads are the AdWords); when people click on the links, those businesses pay Google. These ads appear on Google.com and other Google websites and are also interwoven into the content of more than a million non-Google websites – Google's "Display Network." The problem here is that if a Google executive decides your business or industry doesn't meet its moral standards, it bans you from AdWords; these days, with Google's reach so large, that can quickly put you out of business. In 2011, Google blacklisted an Irish political group that defended sex workers but which did not provide them; after a protest, the company eventually backed down.
In May 2016, Google blacklisted an entire industry – companies providing high-interest "payday" loans. As always, the company billed this dramatic move as an exercise in social responsibility, failing to note that it is a major investor in LendUp.com, which is in the same industry; if Google fails to blacklist LendUp (it's too early to tell), the industry ban might turn out to have been more of an anticompetitive move than one of conscience. That kind of hypocrisy has turned up before in AdWords activities. Whereas Google takes a moral stand, for example, in banning ads from companies promising quick weight loss, in 2011, Google forfeited a whopping $500 million to the U.S. Justice Department for having knowingly allowed Canadian drug companies to sell drugs illegally in the U.S. for years through the AdWords system, and several state attorneys general believe that Google has continued to engage in similar practices since 2011; investigations are ongoing.
7. The Google AdSense blacklist. If your website has been approved by AdWords, you are eligible to sign up for Google AdSense, a system in which Google places ads for various products and services on your website. When people click on those ads, Google pays you. If you are good at driving traffic to your website, you can make millions of dollars a year running AdSense ads – all without having any products or services of your own. Meanwhile, Google makes a net profit by charging the companies behind the ads for bringing them customers; this accounts for about 18 percent of Google's income. Here, too, there is scandal: In April 2014, in two posts on PasteBin.com, someone claiming to be a former Google employee working in their AdSense department alleged the department engaged in a regular practice of dumping AdSense customers just before Google was scheduled to pay them. To this day, no one knows whether the person behind the posts was legit, but one thing is clear: Since that time, real lawsuits filed by real companies have, according to WebProNews, been "piling up" against Google, alleging the companies were unaccountably dumped at the last minute by AdSense just before large payments were due, in some cases payments as high as $500,000.
It's past time to eliminate interest rate caps on small-dollar installment loans.
Thomas W. Miller Jr.June 1, 2016
8. The search engine blacklist. Google's ubiquitous search engine has indeed become the gateway to virtually all information, handling 90 percent of search in most countries. It dominates search because its index is so large: Google indexes more than 45 billion web pages; its next-biggest competitor, Microsoft's Bing, indexes a mere 14 billion, which helps to explain the poor quality of Bing's search results.
Google's dominance in search is why businesses large and small live in constant "fear of Google," as Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer, the largest publishing conglomerate in Europe, put it in an open letter to Eric Schmidt in 2014. According to Dopfner, when Google made one of its frequent adjustments to its search algorithm, one of his company's subsidiaries dropped dramatically in the search rankings and lost 70 percent of its traffic within a few days. Even worse than the vagaries of the adjustments, however, are the dire consequences that follow when Google employees somehow conclude you have violated their "guidelines": You either get banished to the rarely visited Netherlands of search pages beyond the first page (90 percent of all clicks go to links on that first page) or completely removed from the index. In 2011, Google took a "manual action" of a "corrective" nature against retailer J.C. Penney – punishment for Penney's alleged use of a legal SEO technique called "link building" that many companies employ to try to boost their rankings in Google's search results. Penney was demoted 60 positions or more in the rankings.
Search ranking manipulations of this sort don't just ruin businesses; they also affect people's opinions, attitudes, beliefs and behavior, as my research on the Search Engine Manipulation Effect has demonstrated. Fortunately, definitive information about Google's punishment programs is likely to turn up over the next year or two thanks to legal challenges the company is facing. In 2014, a Florida company called e-Ventures Worldwide filed a lawsuit against Google for "completely removing almost every website" associated with the company from its search rankings. When the company's lawyers tried to get internal documents relevant to Google's actions though typical litigation discovery procedures, Google refused to comply. In July 2015, a judge ruled that Google had to honor e-Ventures' discovery requests, and that case is now moving forward. More significantly, in April 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the attorney general of Mississippi – supported in his efforts by the attorneys general of 40 other states – has the right to proceed with broad discovery requests in his own investigations into Google's secretive and often arbitrary practices.
This brings me, at last, to the biggest and potentially most dangerous of Google's blacklists – which Google's calls its "quarantine" list.
9. The quarantine list.To get a sense of the scale of this list, I find it helpful to think about an old movie – the classic 1951 film "The Day the Earth Stood Still,"which starred a huge metal robot named Gort. He had laser-weapon eyes, zapped terrified humans into oblivion and had the power to destroy the world. Klaatu, Gort's alien master, was trying to deliver an important message to earthlings, but they kept shooting him before he could. Finally, to get the world's attention, Klaatu demonstrated the enormous power of the alien races he represented by shutting down – at noon New York time – all of the electricity on earth for exactly 30 minutes. The earth stood still.
Substitute "ogle" for "rt," and you get "Google," which is every bit as powerful as Gort but with a much better public relations department – so good, in fact, that you are probably unaware that on Jan. 31, 2009, Google blocked access to virtually the entire internet. And, as if not to be outdone by a 1951 science fiction move, it did so for 40 minutes.
Impossible, you say. Why would do-no-evil Google do such an apocalyptic thing, and, for that matter, how, technically, could a single company block access to more than 100 million websites?
The rules aim to prevent internet providers from interfering with web traffic.
Tom RisenJune 14, 2016
The answer has to do with the dark and murky world of website blacklists – ever-changing lists of websites that contain malicious software that might infect or damage people's computers. There are many such lists – even tools, such as blacklistalert.org, that scan multiple blacklists to see if your IP address is on any of them. Some lists are kind of mickey-mouse – repositories where people submit the names or IP addresses of suspect sites. Others, usually maintained by security companies that help protect other companies, are more high-tech, relying on "crawlers" – computer programs that continuously comb the internet.
But the best and longest list of suspect websites is Google's, launched in May 2007. Because Google is crawling the web more extensively than anyone else, it is also in the best position to find malicious websites. In 2012, Google acknowledged that each and every day it adds about 9,500 new websites to its quarantine list and displays malware warnings on the answers it gives to between 12 and 14 million search queries. It won't reveal the exact number of websites on the list, but it is certainly in the millions on any given day.
In 2011, Google blocked an entire subdomain, co.cc, which alone contained 11 million websites, justifying its action by claiming that most of the websites in that domain appeared to be "spammy." According to Matt Cutts, still the leader of Google's web spam team, the company "reserves the right" to take such action when it deems it necessary. (The right? Who gave Google that right?)
And that's nothing: According to The Guardian, on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009, at 2:40 pm GMT, Google blocked the entire internet for those impressive 40 minutes, supposedly, said the company, because of "human error" by its employees. It would have been 6:40 am in Mountain View, California, where Google is headquartered. Was this time chosen because it is one of the few hours of the week when all of the world's stock markets are closed? Could this have been another of the many pranks for which Google employees are so famous? In 2008, Google invited the public to submit applications to join the "first permanent human colony on Mars." Sorry, Marsophiles; it was just a prank.
When Google's search engine shows you a search result for a site it has quarantined, you see warnings such as, "The site ahead contains malware" or "This site may harm your computer" on the search result. That's useful information if that website actually contains malware, either because the website was set up by bad guys or because a legitimate site was infected with malware by hackers. But Google's crawlers often make mistakes, blacklisting websites that have merely been "hijacked," which means the website itself isn't dangerous but merely that accessing it through the search engine will forward you to a malicious site. My own website, http://drrobertepstein.com, was hijacked in this way in early 2012. Accessing the website directly wasn't dangerous, but trying to access it through the Google search engine forwarded users to a malicious website in Nigeria. When this happens, Google not only warns you about the infected website on its search engine (which makes sense), it also blocks you from accessing the website directly through multiple browsers – even non-Google browsers. (Hmm. Now that's odd. I'll get back to that point shortly.)
The recent revelation that Facebook ran creepy "emotional contagion" tests shouldn't be a surprise.
Robert SchlesingerJuly 4, 2014
The mistakes are just one problem. The bigger problem is that even though it takes only a fraction of a second for a crawler to list you, after your site has been cleaned up Google's crawlers sometimes take days or even weeks to delist you – long enough to threaten the existence of some businesses. This is quite bizarre considering how rapidly automated online systems operate these days. Within seconds after you pay for a plane ticket online, your seat is booked, your credit card is charged, your receipt is displayed and a confirmation email shows up in your inbox – a complex series of events involving multiple computers controlled by at least three or four separate companies. But when you inform Google's automated blacklist system that your website is now clean, you are simply advised to check back occasionally to see if any action has been taken. To get delisted after your website has been repaired, you either have to struggle with the company's online Webmaster tools, which are far from friendly, or you have to hire a security expert to do so – typically for a fee ranging between $1,000 and $10,000. No expert, however, can speed up the mysterious delisting process; the best he or she can do is set it in motion.
So far, all I've told you is that Google's crawlers scan the internet, sometimes find what appear to be suspect websites and put those websites on a quarantine list. That information is then conveyed to users through the search engine. So far so good, except of course for the mistakes and the delisting problem; one might even say that Google is performing a public service, which is how some people who are familiar with the quarantine list defend it. But I also mentioned that Google somehow blocks people from accessing websites directly through multiple browsers. How on earth could it do that? How could Google block you when you are trying to access a website using Safari, an Apple product, or Firefox, a browser maintained by Mozilla, the self-proclaimed "nonprofit defender of the free and open internet"?
The key here is browsers. No browser maker wants to send you to a malicious website, and because Google has the best blacklist, major browsers such as Safari and Firefox – and Chrome, of course, Google's own browser, as well as browsers that load through Android, Google's mobile operating system – check Google's quarantine list before they send you to a website. (In November 2014, Mozilla announced it will no longer list Google as its default search engine, but it also disclosed that it will continue to rely on Google's quarantine list to screen users' search requests.)
If the site has been quarantined by Google, you see one of those big, scary images that say things like "Get me out of here!" or "Reported attack site!" At this point, given the default security settings on most browsers, most people will find it impossible to visit the site – but who would want to? If the site is not on Google's quarantine list, you are sent on your way.
OK, that explains how Google blocks you even when you're using a non-Google browser, but why do they block you? In other words, how does blocking you feed the ravenous advertising machine – the sine qua non of Google's existence?
Have you figured it out yet? The scam is as simple as it is brilliant: When a browser queries Google's quarantine list, it has just shared information with Google. With Chrome and Android, you are always giving up information to Google, but you are also doing so even if you are using non-Google browsers. That is where the money is – more information about search activity kindly provided by competing browser companies. How much information is shared will depend on the particular deal the browser company has with Google. In a maximum information deal, Google will learn the identity of the user; in a minimum information deal, Google will still learn which websites people want to visit – valuable data when one is in the business of ranking websites. Google can also charge fees for access to its quarantine list, of course, but that's not where the real gold is.
Chrome, Android, Firefox and Safari currently carry about 92 percent of all browser traffic in the U.S. – 74 percent worldwide – and these numbers are increasing. As of this writing, that means Google is regularly collecting information through its quarantine list from more than 2.5 billion people. Given the recent pact between Microsoft and Google, in coming months we might learn that Microsoft – both to save money and to improve its services – has also started using Google's quarantine list in place of its own much smaller list; this would further increase the volume of information Google is receiving.
To put this another way, Google has grown, and is still growing, on the backs of some of its competitors, with end users oblivious to Google's antics – as usual. It is yet another example of what I have called "Google's Dance" – the remarkable way in which Google puts a false and friendly public face on activities that serve only one purpose for the company: increasing profit. On the surface, Google's quarantine list is yet another way Google helps us, free of charge, breeze through our day safe and well-informed. Beneath the surface, that list is yet another way Google accumulates more information about us to sell to advertisers.
You may disagree, but in my view Google's blacklisting practices put the company into the role of thuggish internet cop – a role that was never authorized by any government, nonprofit organization or industry association. It is as if the biggest bully in town suddenly put on a badge and started patrolling, shuttering businesses as it pleased, while also secretly peeping into windows, taking photos and selling them to the highest bidder.
Digital assistants soon will know everything about us. That could be both helpful and scary.
Tom RisenOct. 23, 2015
Consider: Heading into the holiday season in late 2013, an online handbag business suffered a 50 percent drop in business because of blacklisting. In 2009, it took an eco-friendly pest control company 60 days to leap the hurdles required to remove Google's warnings, long enough to nearly go broke. And sometimes the blacklisting process appears to be personal: In May 2013, the highly opinionated PC Magazine columnist John Dvorak wondered "When Did Google Become the Internet Police?" after both his website and podcast site were blacklisted. He also ran into the delisting problem: "It's funny," he wrote, "how the site can be blacklisted in a millisecond by an analysis but I have to wait forever to get cleared by the same analysis doing the same scan. Why is that?"
Could Google really be arrogant enough to mess with a prominent journalist? According to CNN, in 2005 Google "blacklisted all CNET reporters for a year after the popular technology news website published personal information about one of Google's founders" – Eric Schmidt – "in a story about growing privacy concerns." The company declined to comment on CNN's story.
Google's mysterious and self-serving practice of blacklisting is one of many reasons Google should be regulated, just as phone companies and credit bureaus are. The E.U.'s recent antitrust actions against Google, the recently leaked FTC staff report about Google's biased search rankings, President Obama's call for regulating internet service providers – all have merit, but they overlook another danger. No one company, which is accountable to its shareholders but not to the general public, should have the power to instantly put another company out of business or block accessto any website in the world. How frequently Google acts irresponsibly is beside the point; it has the ability to do so, which means that in a matter of seconds any of Google's 37,000 employees with the right passwords or skills could laser a business or political candidate into oblivion or even freeze much of the world's economy.
Some degree of censorship and blacklisting is probably necessary; I am not disputing that. But the suppression of information on the internet needs to be managed by, or at least subject to the regulations of, responsible public officials, with every aspect of their operations transparent to all.
Updated on June 23, 2016: Readers have called my attention to a 10th Google blacklist, which the company applies to its shopping service. In 2012, the shopping service banned the sale of weapons-related items, including some items that could still be sold through AdWords. Google's shopping blacklisting policy, while reasonably banning the sale of counterfeit and copyrighted goods, also includes a catch-all category: Google can ban the sale of any product or service its employees deem to be "offensive or inappropriate." No means of recourse is stated.
Corrected on June 23, 2016: An earlier version of this post misidentified singer Joyce Bartholomew.