Is Chrome OS Too Orwellian Or Big Brother-ish?

We’ve talked and complained about Google on many other occasions within this blog, but with many discussions of Google also comes discussions of privacy, and the fact that Google aims to distribute an operating system should be no different – that is to say, not only is Google open to almost everything we do on the Internet, but the giant will also be the only thing sitting between users and hardware with Chrome OS.

“Let us handle your data”

I can’t be the only person bothered by this – Google Docs aims to own your documents, Google Maps wants to know where you are and where you are going (or even looking at), and now Google Chrome OS wants everything that you don’t put on the Internet.

I’m no conspiracy theorist, I swear. I don’t think Google tries to be evil (though they missed a pretty good chance), and I don’t think they sit there all sweaty and peering at all the private data they collect from users. But they do have it, don’t they?

And now with Chrome OS atop your hardware and Chrome (the browser) atop Chrome OS, you can give everything you do within the OS userspace sandbox a nice, fat red Google stamp across it.

How “sandboxed” the Chrome OS environment is has yet to be seen, but if it fits the netbook idealogy then there won’t be very much done outside of the Chrome browser and/or user environment (possibly iGoogle?)

The Largest Violator of Privacy…

…is almost always the user. People like myself realize the dangers of your information exchanging too many hands, but 90% of people do not, and will freely hand it over if the receiver has a shiny appeal and a trusted name (like, say, “Google“).

Chrome OS will be no different, just with a more streamlined way of going from hardware -> boot -> Internet -> Google for the information exchange.

And there’s no doubt that, with Google controlling the entire GUI layout and design, there will be a heavy slant towards Google Docs and other products to take the place of Word etc. for the new netbook.

While this will undoubtedly appeal highly to users, the exchange of so much information into the hands of one entity will trouble many concerned about privacy on the Web (such as myself).

Final Notes

I know Google isn’t evil (at least 90% sure). But the very fact that Google owns so much information about users along with a history of sharing it with other entities (including governments), it is troublesome. Not to mention the fact that they own

It worried me even before the giant was behind every bit of software running on my hardware (I like netbooks), and it troubles me even more so now. If Google, say, was ever compromised on a large scale, could you imagine just how devastating that would be to the general population?

Just some thoughts on the privacy concerns introduced along with Chrome OS.


Chris is a frequent contributor to The Coffee Desk, initially brought on as an infrequent "guest writer". He is a gamer first and foremost, but his skill in business and economics and his knowledge of the ever-evolving tech industry earns him the position as one of The Coffee Desk's best editors when it comes to telling it like it is regarding business trends in the software industry.

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  1. (quote)thinking man said in August 16th, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Who do I trust?
    Not Google that’s for sure.
    They’ve showed in China what they’ll do in order to be in a market. If Western Gov’s started demanding censorship, Google would provide it.(unquote)

    Google was forced to allow China to censor google sites in China or be blocked from Chinese users. They did not however give China access to any data on users – they keep the servers containing theses outside China.

    Compare this with Microsoft who provided full access to its Windows source code to the Chinese government, and according to several intelligence agencies in Europe this provides backdoors into Windows PCs that the Chinese government can hack into. Remember the NSA key in Windows?

    With open source code like Linux, Android, Chrome, Chrome OS, Google Gears, Google WebToolkit etc. The full source code is published so everyone – the US government, Internet security organisations etc. can check if there are backdoors built into it. This ability to audit the code is the reason why the US National Security Agency (NSA) chose to build its own secure OS, SELinux, on Linux rather than Windows.

  2. Why do we see more and more people fearing Google? Google knows in what city i am with google maps? So scary!
    Oh, they will grab my personal data because i am stupid enough to post it on google docs?

    Sorry, but your article is not doing a great job in documenting relevant facts or reasons to worry about google.

    My question is: where does all the Google bashing coming from? Microsoft maybe? I would not be surprised. FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is owned (and probably protected by IP rights) by Microsoft, who is currently charging on Google to takeover the internet. Ballmer said, about 5 years ago, that he will bury Google.

    Imagine. Microsoft would own the sole OS, the sole apps (msoffice), the sole cloud, the sole internet search, the sole internet standards… Any concern?

  3. thinking man August 16, 2009

    Who do I trust?
    Not Google that’s for sure.
    They’ve showed in China what they’ll do in order to be in a market. If Western Gov’s started demanding censorship, Google would provide it.

    My data can stay on my computer on my desk – I am more than capable of using removable storage devices to move data around.
    If you blindly trust Corporations because you think their products are groovy then there’s little hope for you.

  4. Big difference between Google and Microsoft, is that Google uses OPEN standards, like WebGL/openGL ( which BTW is going to give 3D to browsers…wink wink GAMING and a whole new way to make the browser bypass the Operating System (Microsoft Windows) )

    Google does not care WHOM you are, only what your browser searches for, and service up those ADs.

    Again, you do NOT have to use Google OS at all! They are NOT going to kill off Microsoft Windows either.

    I think Google OS and Windows 7 and Beyond (Which Windows 7 is what Vista should have been) will compete on different needs for different folks.

    There is this shift of moving a lot of APPS ( Not ALL ) to the Cloud. Some will buy or ‘trust’ the Cloud Computing Style (Google) while others will stick with Local computing and Local Apps (Microsoft, mostly because .NET and so many industries already are built using Microsoft as a Platform ).

    So, as Google OS may bring up tracking and the use of Advertising Concerns for A LOT of people, they can stick with Microsoft instead.

    At least more CHOICES are opening up (MS, Apple and soon Google/Linux) for people to CHOOSE.

    Also, someone mentioned do NOT let Linux be converted into Google… well Im sorry to say, that in the end Linux ALREADY has been claimed as a RE-BRANDED Commercial entity. Rehat, Ubuntu, SUSE, anyone? Google will just be one more. (And remember, Google OS will be 100% open source, just like the Chrome Browser, so it will open BENEFIT the entire Open Source Movement… not hinder it!)

  5. Just like if WGA and Windows Update doesnt phone home?

    This is pure FUD.

  6. Microsoft recently tried to change the name of netbooks to “low cost small notebook PC”. They have already started their bullying on manufacturers to use Windows. Deja vu!

    I guess it is a pied piper thing, but only Google has the size to combat MS.

    It is kind of King Kong vs. Godzilla. You are picking the lesser of two evils. You have to determine who is the biggest threat. Microsoft’s closed system has invited the malicious software problems that have created this criminal protection racket that exists today.

    Apple might be Mothra. Apple’s pricing builds the digital divide.

    I understand privacy concerns, and while random personal information might be hard to sift through, the information about a specific person would not be.

    We need to get past these rival pirates of silicon valley. We need an ally (Google) to do that.

  7. Gorfsnopple August 15, 2009

    Google is just as dangerous as Microsoft. Don’t fool yourselves.

    They will stain the Open Source movement.

  8. Then don’t install Chrome OS at all!!! Install Debian Linux, or one of many Distributions of Linux available:

    PLEASE don’t equate GOOGLE with LINUX!!! Google Does NOT own Linux! It may use Linux as the base for GOOGLE’s O/S, but the other 1000+ distributions of Linux are not controlled by, or “infected” by Google!

  9. Chris’s concerns are legit. Only time will tell how severe the true issues will become. Just this week the White House sent emails (unsolicited) to hundreds of people. Cash for Clunkers Auto Dealers have had to agree to virtually yield their computers to the govt. to complete transactions. Many of the top Google heads are enamored with the current administration which loves bigggg govt. even more than the previous one. …Is it all a part of the MATRIX ? You tell me. I depend on a lot of people for help, direction, guidance. I use helpful services like Google and much of what it has to offer. But ultimately I think trust is better placed in system divinely designed. MS, Chrome, Mac, Linux don’t even come close! Read about it at this link below and go from there if interested. Thanks Chris for bringing light to this issue.

  10. The simple answer. Google provides an awesome service. We pay Google with ad views/clicks and some of our privacy.

    Nothing is truly free. It’s all give and take.

  11. ebpowell August 15, 2009

    Further, all this ranting about Google and privacy COMPLETELY misses several points:

    1) The information stored ABOUT YOU WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT and of a FAR more sensitive nature (e.g. Credit information, health records, insurance records) by entities such as Lexus/Nexus etc. is far more dangerous than the contents of a given document.
    2) Even with ChromeOS, a little personal diligence should be sufficient to mitigate these hyperbolic alarmist claims (granted that assumes PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY which is out of fad right now). If it IS sensitive, DON”T USE GOOGLE DOCS! Problem solved.
    3) VOLUME – If 10% of the US population stored just 10 files on Google Docs, that would be 304,000,000 files. Furthermore, if each file is merely 100kb, that would yield 28 GB of (essentially text) data. It would take an IMMENSE amount of effort to glean personal information from this massive dataset. Further, without context, most of the data would ever only be _data_ that was mostly useless except as a source of keywords.
    4) Abuse of the information stored would ultimately be self-defeating. Google is not a dumb company.

  12. How does Google own your data?

    As with Android and Google Gears, Google uses open data formats in Chrome, and it is open-sourcing Chrome OS, and the Linux OS that sits under it. Anybody can write applications for Linux and Chrome OS, it is not limited to accessing Google services, and that is guaranteed by the fact that Google OS, Android and Linux code and APIs are open sourced, open standards based with no licensing or royalty requirements, and available to everybody.

    The problem is Microsoft. Microsoft locks your data into its own proprietary data formats so that Microsoft owns your data – that is true whether you keep your data on a Windows PC, whether you use Sharepoint, or whether you use Microsoft Live.

    Whatever you use from Microsoft, Microsoft’s intention is to lock your data into Microsoft and own your data. Since its revenue is from ads.

    Google doesn’t really care about controlling the desktop, it just needs to make sure Microsoft doesn’t lock Google out of the Internet by leveraging the Microsoft monopoly of the desktop OS client PCs, or by use of proprietary formats.

    Google Chrome OS is simply intended to spread open data formats, and open standards as widely as possible.

  13. earthwirehead August 15, 2009

    The move toward distributed ‘cloud’ computing is going to happen no matter what. The trend toward special-purposed handheld devices and aware from desktop computers is already well-established and will only continue.

    That said, it comes down to a question of ‘who do you trust?’ Google has already announced that Chrome OS will be open source. That means that if Google is able to establish an end-user friendly and cost competitive cloud computing platform in advance of Microsoft or Apple, then the odds of your online activities being compromised in some sinister, big-brother-like fashion are much less.

    Also, a success Chrome OS would provide far greater recognition and credibility for ALL desktop Linux products.

    The only real alternative is to cede the next generation in personal computing to Microsoft… which invokes far more Orwellian visions in my mind than anything Google might ever come up with.

  14. is the way to go!!

  15. racerraul August 15, 2009

    Oh my… I better get buffed on Ginko so that I commit to mind everything in fear of becoming dependent of products & services by other companies…

    get a grip man.

  16. How are these concerns any different from the current situation for a large portion of computer users where Microsoft’s closed source OS and possibly closed source browser are potentially privy to all of their information?

    Google at least is more likely to use open source code or a larger portion of it, and they have a much better track record of not doing evil than Microsoft, as far as the courts are concerned.

  17. And to add to your concern that ‘one company’ is in control of so much information…

    Well, it is better to KNOW WHO and WHAT company is responsible, if something bad DOES happen. Isn’t it? If Google started to do criminal things with Google OS and such… then it would be very easy for investigators ( THE FBI) to handle a solution.

    On the contrary to the CURRENT internet state, Microsoft vulnerabliies allow BILLIONS or more in cyber crime to actually be reality, because of spam, Phishing and such. This can not be DIRECTLY tied to Microsoft as being responsible, because it is hard to prove as botnets are scattered all over the planet, on Windows machines.

    Therefore, stopping crime at the moment on the internet is near impossible, due to the dispertion of WHO and WHERE the criminals are!

    So, I do think everyone needs to keep a CLOSE EYE on Google if they become de facto standard for Desktop, Browser and the lot. But, I think Google would be smart enough to know this, and not mess around.

    Just a though…

  18. Ever try to use Google through a proxy?

  19. Whom would you rather have your information and owner of your platform? Google or Microsoft, or Apple for that matter.

    I think in order listed I would say, Google, Apple than Microsoft.

    Microsoft stiffles novation, which stuffles the economy. No innovation? No economic growth. Linux and Open Source methods have created a multi-billion dollar or ( TRILLION for all I know ) economy.

    Do you think Amazon, Ebay, facebook, myspace, APAcHE, the INTERNET would be able to function as a PUBLIC entity (at least the internet does which runs all the sites I mentioned ) if Linux did not exist.

    Point and Truth is… Open Source is PURE innovation. One (MS) or two (Apple) or three (IBM) companies can not do all the innovation.

    What GOOGLE is innovating is simply ADs. Advertising and search as well of Mobile, maps, gmail, Google Earth and others…but they profit off ADs… internet ADs ( which can be EASILY blocked with the right browser plugins…

    AD tracking, even IF it is you being tracked, is not threatening… (At least not for me … I would personally rather see relevant ADs to MY interests, verses ADs I coould care less about.. )

    The internet is and AD driven system, for bloggers and news sites and more…

    This information on if you surf PORN or POPCorn on the internet is completely harmless and NAME-LESS…they do not care WHO is using the browser, just that someone is browser topic A or B so google serves up A and B type ADs.

    How is this scary? In comparison to the monopolitic software innovation and RIPPING OFF of ideas that Microsoft has done?

    So, if I were to CHOOSE based on company motives and past choices, I would say GOOGLE is completely harmless.

    And giving away a FREE Google OS for less BOTNETs, malware and adware/viruses is a plus.

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